Cover Crops

The educational materials listed on this page are about Cover Crops.

What is a cover crop? A common definition of a cover crop is a plant that is used as part of a crop rotation to improve the soil, scavenge or add nutrients, smother weeds and as a tool for erosion control. Cover crops are not harvested, but are left in place in no-till farming or turned under, especially in organic farming. Another term for cover crops is green manures, especially when the crop residue is incorporated into the soil.

Cover crops can improve soil fertility by adding organic matter, and they help in nutrient management planning by adding nitrogen to soil or by taking up nutrients in soil after cash crop harvest. Winter cover crops are most common in corn and soybean grain production systems, while spring cover crops or summer cover crops can fit many vegetable production systems. Cover crops improve soil moisture, especially over time as soil organic matter and soil tilth are improved.

Cover crop cocktails are used by many farmers as a way to improve soil health. Cocktails or cover crop mixes usually include a grass cover crop such as cereal rye or annual ryegrass, a legume cover crop like crimson clover or hairy vetch, and sometimes a brassica cover crop like forage radish, sometimes called “tillage radish.” Cover crop benefits from cocktails are often greater than seeding a single cover crop species. Cover crop mixes contribute to pest control by attracting beneficial insects and they may increase weed control by providing more ground cover and leaving more crop residue on the soil surface. Some cover crops can mitigate plant disease by suppression soil pathogens. Cover crop cocktails also attract pollinators, including native pollinators.

Cover crop seed is increasingly available from seed companies. They may also be able to help you with information about cover crop selection as well as best timing and methods of planting cover crops.

Some SARE books will help you decide how and when to grow cover crops. Managing Cover Crops ProfitablyCrop Rotation on Organic Farms, and Building Soils for Better Crops are comprehensive guides or manuals. Another useful resource is the SARE topic brief Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations, which summarizes the usefulness of rotating cover crops in any cropping system. For organic farming, see the Organic Transitions business planning guide.

Researchers Study How to Prevent Cover Crops from Failing to Fix Nitrogen

EDINBURG, Texas- Known for their ability to produce nitrogen, legumes actually partner with rhizobium bacteria to create or fix nitrogen through specialized organs in their roots called nodules. This unique relationship adds nitrogen back to the soil so it can be used as fertilizer by future crops. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, researchers […]

Cover Crops and Biodegradable Mulches for Weed Control

AUBURN, Alabama – High biomass cover crops are effective in controlling weeds in vegetable production, while contributing to higher produce yields, Auburn University researchers have found. In addition, pre-emergence herbicide applications can be eliminated from weed management programs in the presence of heavy residues from cover crop mixtures. Through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and […]

Cover Crops and Soil Solarization Proven Effective in Controlling Soil-borne Diseases

MCMINNVILLE, Tennessee – Some cover crops, coupled with soil solarization, can control soil-borne diseases in nursery field production of woody ornamentals, according to the results of a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE)-funded Tennessee State University study. Through a $15,000 SSARE On-Farm Research Grant, Fulya Baysal-Gurel of TSU’s Otis L. Floyd Nursery Research Center, […]

How Soils Behave When We Grow Cover Crops

BELLE GLADE, Florida – Florida vegetable farmers who grow cover crops as a green manure between their cash crops anecdotally tout the health benefits, but a two-year study by University of Florida has provided the research to back it up. In a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) On-Farm Research Grant, University of Florida […]

Agroforestry an Alternative for Farmers Transitioning Away from Tobacco Production

BEREA, Kentucky – A Kentucky farmer, exploring alternatives for tobacco production, has found that elements of an agroforestry system may prove viable to increasing farm profitability and providing environmental benefits. Through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) Producer Grant, Matthew Wilson of Rindlewood Farm studied the feasibility of incorporating sweet sorghum and pasture […]

Cover Crops Improve Soil Quality in Plaintain Production Systems

GURABO, Puerto Rico — In humid, tropical environments where soil organic matter decomposes at a rapid rate, efforts are being made to maintain and improve soil health using cover crops, specifically in high intensive cropping systems like plantain production. In a Producer Grant project, farmer Duamed Colon-Carrion studied the potential benefits of cover crops on […]

Transforming Existing Forested Land into Silvopasture Systems

GREENVILLE, South Carolina – Livestock producers with patches of established forested land on their farm can turn to agroforestry practices as an option to increase economic stability while enhancing environmental quality. Researchers at Furman University, through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) grant, studied the feasibility of transforming forested land on farms in […]

Cover Crops Incorporated into Rotational Grazing Improves Soil Health

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – Over-seeding a diverse cool-season cover crop mix into a rotationally grazed warm-season grass pasture appears to improve soil health, especially when the system is managed over a longer period of time. In a limited study, funded by a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) Graduate Student Grant, Louisiana State University […]

The Performance of Cover Crops in Minimally Tilled Forage-based Grazing Systems

In a Southern SARE-funded Graduate Student Grant (GS15-152), “Evaluation of Winter Annual Cover Crops Under Multiple Residue Management: Impacts on land management, soil water depletion, and cash crop productivity,” Texas Tech University researchers investigated five cover crops species as potential complements to a warm-season beef-stocker grazing system. The impact of the project was two-fold: Stabilize the soil surface from excessive wind erosion and desiccation; and strengthen rural communities by ensuring the persistence of profitable agriculture in the region.

Texas Farmers Learn to Build Soil Health Through No-till and Cover Crops

VERNON, Texas – It’s a hot, dry, windy summer day on the plains of North Texas, and a group of farmers are standing in the middle of a field to learn how techniques to build soil health benefit their cash crops in Texas’ harsh environmental conditions. “This is what no-till looks like in the first […]

University of Florida Researchers Expanding the Cover Crop Toolbox for Farmers

HAWTHORNE, Florida – Several new cover crop varieties that have the potential to overcome the limitations of their commercial counterparts are being targeted for use in Florida to provide farmers with a more diverse selection of plants that excel in soil health, weed suppression and pest management. A small group of farmers, Extension agents and […]

Cover Crops Do Not Deplete Stored Water in the Soil Profile, Clemson Researchers Find

CLEMSON, South Carolina – Among the myriad of benefits cover crops provide to a row crop or vegetable operation, Clemson University researchers have found another one: Cover crops do not deplete water stored in the soil profile, thus preserving the precious resource for the cash crop – an all important function, specifically in times of […]

Cover Crops Have Benefits in High Tunnels

GLENWOOD, Georgia – Barley and hairy vetch growing vigorously in a high tunnel at Lola’s Organic Farm in southeast Georgia were going to seed. It was mid-April. Time to mow and prepare the soil for the summer’s cash crops: ginger and turmeric. Since last year, couple Jennifer Taylor and Ron Gilmore – USDA certified organic […]

It Doesn’t Take Long for Soils to Reap the Benefits of Cover Crops

HORSE SHOE, North Carolina – Whitaker Farms, a family vegetable operation nestled on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest, has been managed conventionally for generations. But last year, owner Phillip Whitaker decided to take part in a study to test the benefits of no-till and cover crops on soil health. Despite the short period […]

NCSU Explores Regionally Adapted Legumes as Forage and Cover Crops

RALEIGH, North Carolina – North Carolina State University researchers are working to expand the portfolio of crops farmers can use in grain, forage and cover crop production. Through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) Graduate Student grant, student Rachel Atwell Vann and organic cropping specialist Chris Reberg-Horton field tested 19 winter pea (Pisum […]

Hiding in Plain Sight

MCMINVILLE, Tennessee – Winter cover crops, specifically a ryegrass/crimson clover mix, appear to protect susceptible deciduous trees from the flatheaded appletree borer, while also effectively managing weeds, according to results of a Tennessee State University study. The results could be useful for orchards, nurseries, urban landscapes and agroforestry producers in managing the significant economic pest. […]

Cover Crops Acting as Trap Crops Protect Vegetables from Pests

LIVE OAK, Florida – For farmers in central Florida, planting cover crops in strips as a trap crop alongside cash crops is proving to be a highly effective method for attracting beneficial insects and controlling pests. Farmers have been so pleased with the results that they have fully adopted the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy […]

Cover Crops Reduce Pest Numbers and Improve Cash Crop Yields

GAINESVILLE, Florida – Preliminary research from University of Florida has found that incorporating root-knot nematode-resistant cover crops in a perennial peanut rotation reduces pest numbers in the cash crop and improves yields. The results may be helpful for producers who choose top-yielding, yet susceptible, peanut cultivars, as well as resistant cultivars that historically carry a […]