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University of Minnesota Extension

Guide to planting cover crops in Minnesota

Getting started

The best approach is to keep it simple. Try one or two species of cover crops and plant them in early-harvested fields to set up the fields for long-term success. Some years, moisture or temperature may limit cover crop growth, so it’s important to experiment with the system for a few years to get a feel for the possibilities. 

Talk to staff from local Extension, your Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) or Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to go over your cover crop plan.

  • Cover crops are best suited to low- or no-till systems.
  • No-till soybeans are easier to start with than no-till corn, but it’s still important to go over your planter systems for residue management and row closing.
  • Planning for a no-till crop actually starts at harvest the year before, as it’s important to leave as much corn residue upright instead of chopped and distributed. The chopped residue stays wet and cool longer than unchopped, vertical corn stubble. 

Choosing a cover crop

The Midwest Cover Crop Council’s Selector Tool for Minnesota evaluates the pros and cons of different species.

When starting out, using one or two cover crops is an excellent way to get acquainted with their benefits. Expensive seed mixes aren’t necessary.

The most popular choice in Minnesota is cereal rye, as it germinates at cool temperatures and grows fast in the spring.

Before choosing a cover crop, consider the following:



Jodi DeJong-Hughes, Extension educator and Anna Cates, Extension specialist in soil health

Reviewed in 2021

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