Research on cover crops started in the 1940’s.

The book, Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd Edition, which is published by Sustainable Agriculture Network, discusses how and why cover crops work and provides an extensive listing of cover crops.

There are a number of benefits to planting cover crops.

Cover crops provide soil cover which helps prevent soil erosion by wind and water and reduces leaching (nitrogen and phosphorus) into surface water and groundwater. 

Cover crops improve soil fertility by adding organic matter to the soil and furnish moisture conserving mulch. 

Legume cover crops (e.g. red clover) have tap roots that can penetrate hard pans and reduce soil compaction.  

Certain cover crops can supply nutrients to cash crops and thus reduce purchased fertilizer inputs.

Sometimes the cash crop does not use all the available nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc.) in the soil at the end of a growing season. 

Non-legume species (e.g. barley, cereal rye, wheat) absorb existing available soil nitrogen by recycling nutrients and preventing nutrient leaching. 

Decomposition of the roots and above ground biomass results in the nutrients becoming available for crops in the next growing season.