Cover Crops

Field of cover crops
Planting cover crops after the main cash crop is harvested provides multiple benefits to the soil, including having a living cover on top of the ground and growing roots in the ground.

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 during times when cropland is often not adequately protected.

Oats and radish crops
A popular mixture of cover crops is oats and radishes (shown here). This provides a fast growing, cost effective option that is relatively maintenance free in the spring.

How it helps:

  • Keeps ground covered to protect it from soil erosion.
  • Improves soil health by adding organic matter and biological activity.
  • Cover crops, such as tillage radishes, have a taproot that can help improve water infiltration.
  • Traps nutrients.
  • Can reduce weed competition.
  • Provides livestock grazing.
Cover crops on the Kellogg Demonstration Farm
The Kellogg Demonstration Farm has experimented with strip tilling their fertilizer into a cover crop field of radishes and cereal rye. The corn crop will be planted into the strips in the spring when the cover crop in terminated.

Planning ahead:

  • What benefit would you like to get out of the cover crop?
  • What seeding method do you plan to use?
  • How will you plan to terminate a cover crop that over winters?

Maintenance:

  • Cover crops should be terminated as late as possible to maximize plant growth and residual nutrient accumulation, while allowing sufficient time for the cover crop to decompose, release nutrients, and recharge soil moisture.
  • Do not allow livestock to graze the cover crop below two inches.