Fighting soil compaction, keeping nitrogen and phosphorous in your soil, and increasing your yield potential. Every farmer aims for these things, but how can you achieve them without spending more money than you have to?

Every year, more farmers are adopting cover crops—the USDA Census of Agriculture report shows that U.S. farmers planted 10.2 million acres of cover crops in 2012—and for good reason. In this season’s last episode of “Management Matters,” Michael Plumer, coordinator with the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (C-BMP), explains how farmers can take advantage of both the economic and environmental benefits of cover crops.


Key Takeaways
What is a cover crop?

A cover crop is a crop specifically used as a conservation cover following your main crop. Cover crops, such as radishes and spring oats, grow through the fall and winter, terminating in spring. Some producers are even getting more out of their cover crops by using them as a grazing crop for livestock.


  • Cover crops improve the quality and water-holding capacity of your soil.
  • By keeping nutrients on the field, cover crops help improve local water quality.
  • Soil responds well to cover crops, transitioning into significant yield increases after two or three years of cover crop rotations.
  • Cover crops can improve soil compaction that tillage can’t remove because cover crop roots reach deep into the soil.

How to get started

  • If you are considering planting cover crops, now is the time to start planning and getting seed lined up because seeders typically start in the middle of August.
  • Consider which of your fields are best for cover crops:
    • Fields that mature earlier than others are optimal so you can plant earlier.
    • Fields with soil compaction are a good choice because cover crops can fix the issue.
  • If you have questions about cover crops, reach out to representatives from C-BMP.

If you have any questions on cover crops or on the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, visit the C-BMP website, the Cover Crop Training Initiative or contact your local ag retailer.

Share This Story