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Cover crops hold great promise for protecting the soil when it’s most vulnerable. Much of the year’s precipitation falls in the spring, when corn and soybean crops have yet to be planted in the field. While residue from the previous year’s row crops can help protect soil from the elements, cover crops are planted in the fall and provide a living canopy through the spring to keep soil in place on the landscape.
A wide variety of cover crops are available. For example, oats are a small grain that can be planted in the fall and will die during the winter, while leaving behind root systems and residue. Contrastingly, winter cereal rye survives over the winter, growing rapidly in the spring and providing a healthy living cover that will need to be killed before planting corn and soybean crops.
Cover crops also have the potential to slow the leaching of nitrate, while also holding water within the soil for the future crop. Timing is crucial: it’s essential to plant your cover crop before harvest, and make sure it’s dead before planting. With proper management, cover crops can yield big benefits in terms of protecting soil from erosion, building soil health, and keeping our waters clean.
Video - Adding a Cover Crop to a Corn-Soybean System (Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers of Iowa)
Video - Cover Crops: Farmer Perspectives - Why grow cover crops? (Iowa Learning Farms)
Video - Cover Crops: Farmer Perspectives - Getting Started (Iowa Learning Farms)
Cover Crop Resources (Iowa Learning Farms)
Small Grain Cover Crops for Corn and Soybean (Iowa State University Extension and Outreach)
Midwest Cover Crops Council