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What it is

Crops such as cereal rye, oats and winter wheat are planted to temporarily protect the ground from wind and water erosion and supply living roots to the soil typically outside of the regular growing season when cropland is not adequately protected. Cover crops can be used in production fields that are subject to soil erosion, fields with high nitrogen and phosphorus levels, fields with low nutrient levels, and in a combination of diverse crop rotations, no-tillage systems, and managed grazing systems. 

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How it helps

Cover crops are used to save soil and support processes with living roots during the nongrowing season. This in-field conservation practice has also been shown to significantly impact water quality by reducing nutrient loading and surface water runoff. The benefits of cover crops are summarized below:

  • Provides ground cover for protection from soil erosion
  • Improves soil health by adding organic matter and beneficial microbes
  • Reduces compaction and increases water-holding capacity
  • Traps nutrients lost through runoff and soil erosion, especially phosphorus
  • Can reduce weed competition through soil-shading
  • Provides grazing for livestock
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Planning ahead

  • What benefit would you like to get out of the cover crop?
  • What type of seeding and method of seeding do you plan to use?
  • How will you terminate a cover crop that overwinters?
  • What insects, nutrients, and roots and debris need to be managed?
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  • Consideration should be given to herbicide programs used in row crop production and their influence on cover crop establishment
  • Termination should take place as late as possible to maximize plant growth, add additional nutrients to the soil and suppress weeds while also allowing sufficient time for the cover crop to decompose, release nutrients and recharge soil moisture
  • Scouting is recommended to identify potential problematic insects to avoid injury to the planted cash crop once the cover crop is terminated
  • Observation of roots, debris, or sediment clogging tile systems should be checked regularly
  • Livestock should not graze the cover crop below two inches
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Additional Resources

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Crops such as cereal rye, oats, winter wheat and many other species are planted to temporarily protect the ground from wind and water erosion and supply living roots to the soil during times when cropland is often not adequately protected. In conjunction with no-tilling, keeping living roots in the soil as much as possible helps improve soil health by adding organic matter and biological activity.

Ohio Demonstration Farms project manager, Aaron Heilers checks in on the growth progress of cover crops interseeded into V5 corn at the Kurt Farms demonstration site in Dunkirk, Ohio.

Using a vertical tillage tool with a Valmar seeder, Stateler Family Farms seeds a four-way mix of cereal rye, oats, radish and buckwheat to help hold nutrients in the soil for next year's corn crop.

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