Farmers interested in planting cover crops to improve soil health now have an updated and expanded resource in the second edition of the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide.
The pocket guide is produced by Purdue University and the Midwest Cover Crops Council which includes the Iowa Cover Crops Working Group. This group is made up of representatives from Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach, ISU Agronomy Department, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa Learning Farms. Tom Kaspar, with the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, also serves on the working group and participated in the guide revisions.
Growers plant cover crops for a variety of reasons and possible benefits. Cover crops can trap nitrogen left in the soil after cash-crop harvest, scavenging the nitrogen to build soil organic matter and recycling some nitrogen for later crop use. They also can prevent erosion, improve soil physical and biological characteristics, suppress weeds, improve water quality and conserve soil moisture by providing surface mulch.
The first cover crops guide was released in February 2012. The updated guide is in response to the increasing interest in cover crops in the Midwest and to requests for additional information.
“All this new information will help farmers better choose appropriate cover crops for their situation and better manage the cover crops they grow – all for greater potential benefit for their soils and cash crop growth,” said Eileen Kladivko, Purdue professor of agronomy.
— Getting started in cover crops.
— Rationale for fitting cover crops into different cropping systems.
— Suggested cover crops for common rotations.
— Cover crop effects on cash crop yields.
— Climate considerations including winter hardiness and water use.
— Adapting seeding rates and spring management based on weather.
— “Up and coming” cover crops.
There also is more information about herbicide carryover, manure and biosolids applications, and crop insurance issues.
Four states have been added to the new guide to round out information for cover crops in the Midwest. They are Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota.
The guide’s second edition is available at Purdue Extension’s The Education Store at