In March, the Iowa landscape—along with much of the upper Midwest—looks barren with vast fields of cornstalk stubble and brown soil left exposed from the previous year’s harvest of corn and soybeans. But in Winfield, Iowa, the fields of Jeff Olson’s farm are green with crops like cereal rye, alfalfa, and barley and pushing through the warming soil.
“My whole farm is green in March. It’s a picture of living soil,” Olson says. “The cover crops help keep the ground active all year round. The roots are building, and there is activity in the soil.”
Olson, along with a growing number of other Midwest farmers, is growing cover crops like cereal rye, alfalfa, clover, rapeseed, and others. Instead of leaving fields barren after the fall harvest, which can lead to soil erosion, more farmers plant cover crops in the fall and let them grow to spring, keeping roots in the ground year-round. Cover crops provides a range of benefits from preventing soil erosion and improving water quality to reducing chemical inputs and building healthier soils that can mitigate climate change.