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.


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

Unable to attend Practical Farmers’ Annual Conference? Or did you attend but need a second look? Discover what you missed by watching videos of key sessions and presentations.

Learn more here


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 [email protected] or Sarah Carlson at [email protected]