Top 10 Cover Crops for Iowa

Cover crops can provide a variety of benefits including improved soil health and reduced soil and nutrient loss. However, some species are better suited for Iowa’s weather and growing season to achieve these benefits.

Cover crops can be grouped into three main categories: Grasses, Brassicas and Legumes.

Within each of these categories, there are many species you can choose. To help make species selection decisions a little easier, we will be posting a series of blogs about each category of cover crop in preparation of our panel session at the 2016 Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference discussing the top cover crop species for Iowa – so stay tuned!

2016 PFI Annual Conference Session Preview

To learn more about each of the top 10 cover crops species and how they can be used to meet your cover crop goals, check out the Saturday afternoon session “Top 10 Cover Crop Species for Iowa – 2016 Edition”. The session will include a panel of Iowa farmers and researchers discussing sharing their experiences with the different cover crop species, including which ones they recommend and which they would avoid.  Panelists include: Meaghan Anderson (ISU Extension Field Agronomist), Ajay Nair (ISU Extension Horticulture Specialist), Paul Ackley (Taylor County crop and livestock farmer), and Laura Krouse (Linn County vegetable farmer).PFI Conference 2015

This fall, we polled the Iowa Cover Crop Working Group along with other Iowa State University cover crop researchers and our blog readers on what cover crop species work best in Iowa. We combined the votes to create the following list:

Top 10 Cover Crops for Iowa

  1. Winter Cereal Rye (grass)
  2. Oats (grass)
  3. Winter Wheat (grass)
  4. Oilseed Radish (brassica)
  5. Winter Triticale (grass)
  6. Rapeseed (brassica)
  7. Hairy Vetch (legume)
  8. Red Clover (legume)
  9. Winter Barley (grass)
  10. Annual Ryegrass (grass)

Winter cereal rye was the clear frontrunner as it can meet most goals for using cover crops: establishes quickly, over-winters, economical, creates above-ground biomass, good root system, nitrogen user, and easily terminated. However, cereal rye is not the only cover crop suited for Iowa as we will discuss in future posts.

Register for the 2016 PFI Annual Conference today!

The deadline to register by mail is Thursday, January 14th and you can also register online here.  Walk-ins are also welcome during the conference.

The two-day conference January 22-23 at the Iowa State Center in Ames is open to everyone and is an opportunity for farmer-to-farmer learning and networking. For information and to register visit

Liz Juchems


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