Cover Crops

Updated 7/7/2016

What are the benefits of cover crops?  How best can they be implemented?  The resources on this page will provide you with information on what cover crops can do for your farm, along with walking you through each phase of cover crop usage: from planning, planting, managing, and termination.  


The benefits of cover crops

Cover crops improve soil health by building soil organic matter, reducing erosion, holding nutrients in place, and providing those nutrients for the next year’s crop.  This also reduces nutrient losses into nearby waterways, improving drinking water.  However, it takes time and proper management to accumulate those benefits.  

In this video, you will learn about the relationship between cover crops and soil health.


Planning for cover crops

Proper planning is the key to success, especially if you start planning early.  Devote time to learn.  Before developing your plan, consult these ten important tips first.  If possible, locate a cover crop demonstration site near you to learn about cover crops from one of our many statewide experts.  You may wish to begin experimenting on smaller fields first, before scaling up.  It's also important to choose cover crops that match the needs of your field.  Consult the Cover Crop Decision Support Tool to help determine which seed best matches your field.



Different seeding methods have different pros and cons.  If your growing season is shorter, you may consider aerial seeding to get a head start on cover crop growth time, before killing frost sets in.  If you're thinking about this method, consult our guide - What to Expect When Aerially Seeding Cover Crops.  


Cover crops require effective management to yield optimal results.  There are several insightful resources available to help improve cover crop management.  We suggest you read them all:

Cover Crops and Grazing

Cover crops can improve existing crop residues to easily meet the nutritional needs of livestock. They provide emergency or supplemental forage supplies for grazing animals. Fresh forages can add protein, energy and other essential nutrients to the animal diet.  CBMP cover crop specialists Pete Fandel and Dean Oswald have written extensively on managing cover crops with grazing animals.  It's important to be mindful of herbicide restrictions when using cover crops as supplemental forage.  The University of Wisconsin provides a thorough guide on the subject.


If cover crops are not terminated properly and at the appropriate time, they could diminish the performance of the production crop.  Winterkilling, tilling, mowing, and herbicide application are the most common methods of cover crop termination.  Which method is right for your crop?  When is the ideal time to terminate?  Purdue University has an in-depth guide: Successful Cover Crop Termination with Herbicides.

Contact a Cover Crop Specialist

Interested in learning more about cover crops and if they are right for you? Contact one of our cover crop specialists. Cover crop specialists set up meetings across the state and partner with local SWCD, NRCS and ag departments at community colleges to establish a network for education and outreach.  

Learn about our team of cover crop experts.