Cover Crops


Cover crops are used to build soil organic matter, break up hard pans, provide ground cover to reduce erosion and offer competition to weeds. The preferred variety of cover crop species to grow depends on many factors, including:

Purpose of Crop

  • Erosion management
  • Weed competition
  • Nitrogen contribution
  • Deep root penetration
  • Living mulch for the next crop

Time of the year

  • Frost seeded (February or March)
  • Spring/early Summer
  • Fall

Soil Incorporation

  • Frost killed
  • Cultivate and incorporate
  • Crimping to break stems and begin breakdown (no-till)

Season length

  • Substantial cover for winter
  • Quick cover for early spring
  • Cover with opportunity to harvest for animals and organic matter

Cover Crop Management

Fact Sheet: Cover Crops
This fact sheet from the USDA Risk Management Agency defines cover crops and acceptable use or management of the crops.

SARE Managing Cover Crops Profitably
This document is published by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and addresses current theories and established management complexities related to the use of cover crops. 

Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide
This guide helps producers effectively select, grow, and use cover crops in their farming systems. It is meant to be a useful reference for those producers who want to prevent soil erosion, improve nutrient cycling, sustain their soils, and protect the environment. It includes cover crop suggestions for common rotations, up-and-coming cover crop species, effects on yields as well as climate considerations. For a sample of the second edition, download the above-listed PDF document or read more online.

Mustard Cover Crops for Biomass Production and Weed Suppression in the Great Lakes Region
This resource identifies the narrow window in the fall (mid-August) when mustard reliably produces enough biomass to suppress weeds in the stand, and it provides a map to help target the right planting date.

Mustards: A Brassica Cover Crop for Michigan
This extension bulletin indicates cover crops from the brassica family can be used as biofumigants, suppressing soil-borne fungal pests.

Oilseed Radish: A New Cover Crop for Michigan
This bulletin was produced to help farmers manage oilseed radish cover crops in order to optimize those benefits and the efficiency of their farming systems.

Manure Slurry-Enriched Seeding of Cover Crops
Michigan State has been developing a new land application process that integrates manure management with no-till practices.

Midwest Cover Crop Council
The MCCC facilitates widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest, offering training, research and policy resources on their website.

Cover Crops at Kellogg Biological Station
The Cover Crops Program at the Michigan State University Extension’s Agriculture and Agri-business Institute focuses on integrating cover crops into Michigan field crop systems and provides resources for its farmers.

Crop Insurance Agent Locator
The USDA has created an online form to locate authorized providers of crop insurance.

Rodale Institute: Organic no-till
No-till production allows farmers to save tine and money as it reduces or eliminates the need to till fields for planting or weed cultivation.

Vegetable Cover Crops

Cover Crop Choices for Michigan Vegetables
This bulletin explains the challenges facing Great Lakes growers and what can be overcome through the implementation of various cover crop species.

Overview: Cover Crops Benefit Vegetable Production Systems
This document describes the benefit of cover crops used in vegetable systems, specifically outlining their role in maintaining the fertility and tilth of soil.

Choosing Cover Crops for No-till Organic Soybeans
In no-till systems, cover crops can be used to create a vegetative mulch for weed suppression after the primary crop has been planted.

Soybean Field Guide
This pocket-sized guide was created for soybean producers and soybean agronomists to use in the identification of soybean pests and diseases in the Midwest. To purchase this Iowa State Extension guide, please order online.

Decision Tools

MCCC Crop Decision Tools
The Midwest Cover Crop Council’s Cover Crop Decision Tools are web-based systems to assist farmers in selecting cover crops to include in field crop and vegetable rotations.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers
This is an online tool provided by Cornell to help narrow the choices of vegetable cover crops.

NRCS Cost-Sharing

NRCS: Conservation Planning
This pamphlet outlines the steps necessary to create a conservation plan, the starting point for managing natural resources and maintaining a productive capacity.

NRCS: Helping People Help the Land
NRCS provides financial assistance with conservation measures for all types of agricultural operations including row crops, livestock and dairy, forest and organic production.

MSU Extension Articles

All Michigan State University Extension articles are selected from MSU Extension: Agriculture. To stay current, subscribe to MSUE news digests.

This list of Cover Crop Resources is a compilation of books and links offering information on cover crops for farmers. 

Midwest Cover Crops Council Website

Midwest Cover Crops Council Decision Tools

Midwest Cover Crops Council Listserv

Midwest Cover Crop Field Guide 2nd ed.

Michigan State University Cover Crop Resources

SARE Cover Crops Topic Room

SARE Books

  • Managing Cover Crops Profitably
  • Building Soil for Better Crops
  • Crop Rotation on Organic Farms 

SARE Bulletins

SARE Library of cover crop and soil health images

National Cover Crops Conference Videos

NRCS Soil Health

Soil Health Institute

Soil Health Partnership

How to choose your next cover crop
This MSUE article helps you decide which clover you should use as a cover crop?

Cover crops and soil organic matter
This MSUE article highlights common cover crops grown in Michigan for building soil organic matter.

Cover crops and nitrogen scavenging
This MSUE article outlines cover crop ability to scavenge excess nitrogen. 

Cover crops as nitrogen source
MSUE teaches how cover crops can produce Nitrogen for your fields.

Controlling soil erosion with cover crops
This MSUE article describes how cover crops can be used to impede soil erosion off of fields.

Planting cover crops to improve clay soil quality used for pasturing livestock
MSUE educators discuss how cover crops and annual forage crops could be included in pasture re-establishment on clay soils.

Benefits of white clover as a cover crop
White clover has many benefits that are useful for cropping systems.

Management of white clover as a cover crop
White clover is a good cover crop that if managed correctly can be a great benefit to your cropping system.

Benefits of crimson clover as a cover crop
Crimson clover has many benefits when used at a cover crop for the farm system.

Management and planting of crimson clover as a cover crop
Crimson clover is a good choice for those who would like to use an annual clover as a cover crop.

Benefits of using red clover as a cover crop
There are many benefits to using red clover as a cover crop, including nitrogen production, serving as a weed suppressor and being widely adaptable.

Management of red clover as a cover crop
MSUE educators ask you to consider the following management tips for red clover, one of the most widely used cover crops.