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Cover Crops and Soil Health

Winter pea, crimson clover, and cereal rye cover crop mix

Winter pea, crimson clover, and cereal rye
cover crop mix

The NRCS Soil Health Division and Plant Materials Program are working together to improve our knowledge of using cover crop mixes to produce healthy soils.

Cover crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system. They prevent erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles along with various other benefits. The species of cover crop selected along with its management determine the benefits and returns.


Cover Crop Termination Guidelines

The termination guidelines provides information on termination of cover crops on non-irrigated cropland. They were created by NRCS, Risk Management Agency (RMA), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and other public and private stakeholders to address concerns about cover crops’ impact on crop insurance. Click here for the latest termination guidelines. Earlier guidelines are available on RMA’s Cover Crop webpage.

Cover Crop Selection Tools




Cover Crops: Current and Future Directions - In this plenary discussion, Ramona Garner (USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Program) describes the efforts of the Plant Materials Center to identify and develop new and improved cover crops; germplasm identification and screening, and the role of the center in national cover crops and soil health projects. This session was part of Cover Crops for Soil Health, a three-day professional development workshop hosted by Northeast SARE and Delaware State University in March 2016.  View on YouTube

Maximizing Cover Crop Benefits for Growers     

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Lockeford Plant Materials Center conducts trials year-round to find plants and mixes that producers can successfully use to improve their soils. Lockeford PMC Manager Margaret Smither-Kopperl talked about the multiple benefits cover crops can have and how they are developing budget-friendly mixes for different producers. Agronomist Valerie Bullard showed results from a nationwide-wide trial that is looking at what varieties grow the best in specific regions and how some plants can source nitrogen for your soil.   



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National Study Progress Reports

The USDA NRCS Plant Materials Program is conducting studies at their centers in California, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington to evaluate the influence of seeding rates and plant diversity on soil health. These centers are providing annual reports, allowing us to follow what happens when equal treatments are planted at varied locations across the U.S.

Study Results - Year 1

Study Results - Year 2


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Cover Crop Plant Guides

The following plant guides describe the characteristics of some commonly used cover crops. They provide assistance in selecting appropriate cover crops, when and how to plant and when to terminate or incorporate the plant into the soil.

These documents require Acrobat Reader.

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Additional Resources

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 Radish cover crops control weeds in wild seed production - Wild grass and flower seed growers can better control weeds by planting radishes as a cover crop prior to seeding, results of a trial at the Aberdeen Plant Materials Center show.

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