Practical Farmers of Iowa: Cover Crop Options to Improve Soil Health

Because small-grains crops like wheat or oats are harvested in mid-summer, the many weeks remaining before winter presents opportunities for a panoply of cover crop options to improve soil health. Noah Wendt and Caleb Akin farm together near Cambridge in central Iowa. Among other reasons, they use small-grains crops in their rotation in order to facilitate cover crop mixes for the purposes of high-quality forage for grazing cattle and for boosting soil fertility.

After wheat harvest in July 2020, red clover grows as a green manure cover crop that fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of soil bacteria. Pictured here in September 2020 while the clover was in full bloom, Noah (left) and Caleb estimated they’d be able to reduce chemical N fertilizer use by 50-75% for 2021’s corn crop. The clover smothers weeds, holds soil in place and harbors pollinators, too!