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Importance of Cover Crops

Jan 25, 2013

Author: Frank Miklozek, Indiana,

Planting a cover crop has been an agricultural practice for centuries and can be a good option for managing overall soil health and environmental sustainability. A cover crop is implemented to benefit the soil and is not intended to be harvested as a cash crop. Cover crops can offer the following benefits1:

  • Soil fertility and quality management
  • Control of erosion (water and wind)
  • Suppression of weeds, pests, and insects

Selecting the appropriate cover crop may vary depending on timing and premeditated outcomes. There are many different types of cover crops falling into two different categories: legumes and non-legumes. Clovers, hairy vetch, field peas, annual medic, alfalfa, and soybeans are a few crops that fall under the legume umbrella. Legumes help translate atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can utilize. Non-legumes include rye, oats, wheat, forage turnips, oilseed radish, sudangrass, and buckwheat. These help reduce leaching losses by recycling existing soil nitrogen. However, timing is crucial when deciding how a cover crop will fit into rotation.


Figure 1 Wheat can be a good non-legume cover crop.

Some cover crops require taking land out of cash crop production for all or part of the growing season, while winter cover crops planted in late summer or autumn will remain in the ground until spring. Other crops can be planted during spring, summer, or fall in between cash crops while interseeded cover crops may stay in the ground for varying amounts of time2. Providing improved erosion control due to the simultaneous planting of both cover crops and cash crops, interseeding can put your field at an advantage by providing more organic matter to the soil2.

Other advantages of cover crops include slower evaporation of soil moisture and increased infiltration of rainfall3. Cover crops can also be used as a pasture for livestock before cash crops are planted.

For more information on cover crops, contact Frank Miklozek from Indiana or your Channel Seedsman.







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