Cover Crops

Cover crops are plants such as small grains, legumes, brassicas and others that are planted between cash crop seasons to keep a living cover on the landscape. Numerous studies have shown these plants can help protect soil and water quality, reduce chemical input costs, improve farm resiliency, boost yields, increase forage availability and improve wildlife habitat.  In Iowa, the number of cover crop acres has increased dramatically over the past several years — from fewer than 10,000 acres in 2009 to about ​6​00,000 acres in 201​6​.  Practical Farmers of Iowa has played a central role in bringing about this transformative change to the landscape.

Adding a Cover Crop to a Corn-Soybean System

PFI field crop specialist Sarah Carlson explains how to add a cover crop to your corn and soybean rotation in this 25-minute video.   Part One       Part Two


Cover Crops 201 – Chris Teachout & Loran Steinlage – PDF

Grazing Cover Crops – Mark Schleisman – PDF

Cover Crops and Conservation on Rented Ground – Chris Teachout & Chris Henning – PDF

A Decade of Cover Crop Research – Joel Gruver – PDF

Intro to Cover Crops for Vegetables – Mark Quee – PDF

Growing Your Own Cover Crop Seed – Chris Gaesser & Dick Sloan – PDF

Reducing Herbicide with Cover Crops – Doug Adams & Wade Dooley – PDF

Roller-Crimping Cover Crops – Levi Lyle & Billy Sammons – PDF


Inter-Seeding Cover Crops to Corn – Bryce Irlbeck – PDF

Rolling Cover Crops with Modified Equipment – Dave Schmidt – PDF

Rolling Cover Crops with Modified Equipment – Francis Thicke – PDF

Rolling Cover Crops with Modified Equipment – Doug Alert – PDF


Healthy Plants Grow in Healthy Soils – Jill Clapperton

Healthy Plants Grow in Healthy Soils Q & A – Jill Clapperton

Fear of Change in Cover Crop Adoption – Blake Vince

Global Overview of Farmland Conservation – Blake Vince

Cover Crops or Forage Crops? – Joe Sellers – PDF

Cover Crops, Weeds and Herbicides—Bob Hartzler


Cover Crops 101 – Rob Stout – PDF

Cover Crops 101 – Tom Kaspar – PDF


Cover Crops:  101 and Advanced – Paul Ackley – PDF

Cover Crops:  101 and Advanced – Dave Robison – PDF

Benefits of Cover Crops – Tom Kaspar – PDF

Benefits of Cover Crops – Dave Robison – PDF 

A recent study, conducted by Iowa Learning Farms (ILF), Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and Practical Farmers of Iowa, was to find the economic value of reduced soil erosion and reduced nutrient loss from cover crop use. Infographic

Cover Crop Termination Guidelines (NRCS)

To ensure that USDA policies are coordinated and up to date with evolving
cover crop practices, the administrators of the Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS), Risk Management Agency (RMA) and Farm Service Agency
(FSA) organized an interagency workgroup to develop consistent, simple and
flexible policy across the three agencies.

Prevented Planting Fact Sheet (NRCS)

Discover the facts and benefits about using cover crops to improve soil in prevented planting fields, including building topsoil and nitrogen.

Managing Cover Crops Profitably (SARE)

For more information on how and why cover crops work, check out the book Managing Cover Crops Profitably by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, available as a free download.

Midwest Cover Crops Council (WIU)

For information about cover crops throughout the Midwest, visit the Midwest Cover Crops Council Website. Their 136-page guide will help you effectively select, grow, and use cover crops in your farming systems. You can purchase a copy for just $5.

Cover Crop Alternatives (WIU)

Interested in adding cover crops to your farm? Joel Gruver’s Cover Crop Alternatives presentation shows how you can more easily add cover crops to your farming system.

Ohio State University Sustainable Crop Rotations with Cover Crops (OSU)

Estimating Plant-Available Nitrogen Release from Cover Crops, Oregon State

Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects (SARE)

This 16-page bulletin will help you use cover crops to encourage populations of pollinators and beneficial insects on your farm while you address your other resource concerns.


With cover crops promising such tangible benefits for farmers and the environment, Practical Farmers is working to increase cover crop use in Iowa and the Midwest. Iowa Learning Farms has been a key partner in these efforts, as well as the Natural Resources Conversation Service, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Risk Management Agency. In addition several private companies including seed-houses, aerial applicators and cooperatives have also worked with Practical Farmers to decrease barriers for farmers wanting to add cover crops.

Contact Information

For more information about on-farm research or cover crops programming, contact:

Stefan Gailans at stefan@practicalfarmers.org or Sarah Carlson at sarah@practicalfarmers.org.