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Cover Crops

Cover crops have been identified as a best management practice to improve water quality by retaining nutrients on farm that may otherwise leave the field via erosion, runoff or leaching. Adding cover crops means changes in crop management and Iowa Corn will serve as a resource for you to learn more about this practice.

What They Are

Cover crops can be defined as non-commodity crops planted into standing cash crops or bare fields following harvest, with the intent of increasing farm profitability through increased yields, reduced fertilizer costs and reduced weed management costs.

Benefits

There are so many! Based on several years of research among the agronomist community, the following list equates to the many reasons cover crops are great:

  • Improves soil quality
  • Reduces erosion
  • Retains soil nutrients
  • Breaks up soil compaction
  • Replenishes nitrogen
  • Increases organic matter
  • Combats weeds

Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy has identified cover crops as a best management practice to improve water quality by retaining nutrients that would otherwise leave the field via erosion, runoff or leaching. The strategy’s science assessment reports that cover crops can reduce losses of nitrogen and phosphorus by approximately 30 percent. By reducing nutrient loss, more nutrients will be available for next year’s crop, which can increase yields and decrease fertilizer inputs.

Managing Cover Crops

Adding cover crops requires a few changes in your crop management. Cover crops need to be planted early enough in the fall to allow for germination and growth before frost (aerial seeding can help with this) and they need to be terminated in the spring to prevent interference with the next crop. However, this can easily be accomplished through grazing, haying, tilling, spraying or a combination.

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