Cover crops are a great way to improve soil health. Many Iowa farmers are adding cover crops to their crop rotations so soil stays covered when the fields are not growing other crops. Cover crops also improve soil organic matter and slow water runoff.
Farmers have many questions about incorporating cover crops. Most asked questions include: what kinds of plants can be used, when and how to seed and when and how to terminate. With field days and workshops, Iowa Learning Farms strives to help farmers, and other interested people, find the answers to these questions and more.
Cover Crop Print Resources
Cover Crop Recipe: Post Corn, Going to Soybean and Cover Crop Recipe: Post Soybean, Going to Corn
These publications are intended to provide a starting point for farmers who are new to growing cover crops. With experience, farmers may fine-tune the use of cover crops for their systems. Development of these publications was led by Midwest Cover Crop Council.
Reducing Soil Erosion with Rye Cover Crops - A case study using rainfall simulation to estimate soil erosion and water infiltration rates in a corn silage/soybean rotation when a cereal rye cover crop is added compared to no cover crop.
Cover Crops and Livestock
Best Management Practices for Fall Grazing Cover Crops - Benefits to cover crops following grain production is a proven tool to protect soil, reduce erosion, improve water quality and enhance soil quality. Fall grazing cover crops can also reduce feed costs but has challenges due to weather risk. Eighteen producers who have fall grazed cover crops for two or more years were interviewed about their experiences. Their responses are summarized in this publication.
Spring Grazing Cover Crops and Grazing Cover Crops to Avoid Soil Compaction - For many livestock producers, cover crops and winter grazing go hand-in-hand; however, perhaps the most valuable time for grazing cover crops is in the spring. Winter annual cereal grains such as rye, wheat, and triticale grow fastest and provide the most tonnage in the early spring, before cool-season grasses start to grow. With proper management, soil compaction from grazing cover crops can be minimized as demonstrated in two case studies evaluating impacts of grazing corn stalk residue with and without cover crops.
Herbicide and Cover Crops Extension Publication - In addition to conservation purposes, cover crops can provide forage for livestock producers. It is important for livestock producers to consider restrictions on labels of herbicides used earlier in the growing season if they intend to use the cover crop as a forage source. (2-page version)
Cover Crops in Iowa: A Quick Guide - An "infographic" for a quick overview
Cover Crops In Iowa: A Glossary - A quick-read of cover crop terms and their meanings
Small Grain Cover Crops for Corn and Soybean (PDF) - Iowa State University Extension publication
Iowa NRCS Cover Crop Resources - Technical resources covering a variety of topics including: NRCS Job Sheets for cost share, crop insurance, prevent planting, termination and more!
Clean Water Iowa Cover Crop Resources - Information on cover crops and Water Quality Initiative watershed projects.
Cover Crop Research and Demonstrations in Iowa
Below are resource files listing groups and locations of ongoing and completed cover crop research and demonstration activities in Iowa. Feel free to contact any of these groups for more information or if you’re interested in conducting trials or demonstrations on your farm.
Iowa Cover Crop Champions
These Iowa farmers have graciously offered to assist new cover crop users by offering information or answer any questions on the use and management of cover crops. There are many resources available, but if you're not sure where to turn for advice on cover crops, please feel free to contact any of the farmers listed here.
Cover Crop Cost Calculator
ILF has created a cover crop cost calculator tool to help calculate and compare the cost of drilling or aerial seeding cover crops. The downloadable Excel file calculates the total cost of using the cover crop including seed, application, and chemical termination. You can use the calculator for a single cover crop species or up to six species to a mixture. The tool calculates the cost of drilling and aerial application for easy comparison.
To use the calculator, download and open the Excel file (Microsoft Excel software must be installed on your computer in order to use the file). Any cell that is shaded in yellow can have a value inserted including the cost of the seed in $/lb, and the cost of application.
Cover Crop Seeding Rate Calculator
Another new tool can be used similarly as the Cost Calculator to find out seeding rates for several varieties of single species cover crops and for mixes too.
To use the Seeding Rate Calculator, download and open the Excel file (Microsoft Excel software must be installed on your computer in order to use the file). You can enter data into any yellow shaded box to compute seeding rates for cover crop plots.
Cover Crop Videos
Midwest Cover Crops Council website offers excellent resources for cover crops education as well as networking opportunities for cover crop users.
Also on the Midwest Cover Crops Council website is the Cover Crop Decision Tool. This free on-line resource can help you decide which cover crop variety is most suitable for your farming conditions. The tool has two parts: one for field crops and one for vegetable growing.
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture houses the Iowa Cover Crops Working Group page that lists several additional resources.
Blog by David Robison plantcovercrops.com contains lots of posts about cover crops across the midwest. He is a founding member of the Midwest Cover Crop Council.