Iowa Cover Crops: Answers to 8 Common Questions

By Zach Bader, Iowa Farm Bureau

You’re not seeing things – Iowa’s farm fields really are turning green earlier in the spring than they used to, thanks to cover crops!

Iowa’s farmers have been taking on the challenge of improving Iowa’s water quality for decades. A 2015 Iowa State University survey shows that Iowa farmers invested as much as $2.2 billion in conservation over the previous 10 years. It’s why Iowa ranks first nationally in acres of grassy buffer strips to protect waterways from runoff and why the state has roughly 90,000 miles of grassy terraces (enough to go around the Earth three and a half times) to prevent erosion and runoff. With the help of buffer strips, terraces, and a variety of other longstanding conservation practices, Iowa farmers have reduced phosphorus losses from fields by 22 percent (since a baseline period that includes the early 1980s through the mid-1990s).

But cover crops are relatively new to most of Iowa’s landscape, so (naturally) Iowans have lots of questions. We’ve answered some of the most commonly Googled questions about cover crops with help from some Iowa experts:

  • Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Julie Kenney

  • Iowa State University (ISU) Extension professor and cropping systems specialist Mark Licht

  • ISU assistant professor of economics and extension specialist Alejandro Plastina

  • Practical Farmers of Iowa strategic initiatives director Sarah Carlson


Alex Rausch