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Cover Crop Seeding Methods

Cover crops have a lot of benefits including protecting bare ground over winter and providing forage for animals. There are several methods for planting a cover crop, but how you do it depends on what your goals are and your access to seeding equipment.

Meaghan Anderson is an extension field crop specialist with Iowa State University. She says overseeding is done before a standing crop is harvested which allows the cover crop to get some good growth in the fall. It’s broadcast over the field with an airplane or using high clearance equipment.

"One of the downsides that I would say is, that it is going to be a bit of a riskier method for establishment because you’re not getting the same kind of seed/soil contact that you might get if you were seeding it with a drill or if you were actually incorporating that seed after harvest," says Anderson. "So, a lot of times when we’re talking overseeding, the seeding rate is going to be bumped up a little bit."

Anderson says drilling is the most ideal method to seed a cover crop because you know the entire field is getting covered and there is seed-to-soil contact.

"The drill is nice because you’ve got a clear, open piece of ground. It’s going to be much easier to complete. The struggle with drilling of course is that you do have to wait until the crop’s harvested in order to do it, so we really shorten up that growing season in the fall to get any good growth on the cover crop," she says. "So, your species option for drilling the cover crop is typically going to be quite a bit more limited that it is if you were overseeding."

Crunched for time? Anderson knows of farmers who broadcast cover crop seed from the combine, or while they’re tilling.