Considerations for Using Soybeans as a Cover Crop

By:  Laura Lindsey, Ohio State University

From the USDA RMA website (

“Q. Can I plant a cover crop of the same crop I was prevented from planting? Or in other words, can I use the seed I have on hand (corn, soybeans, wheat) to plant a cover crop as long as it’s at a lower seeded rate that qualifies for cover crop?soybean in field

A. Yes. An acceptable cover crop must be generally recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement is planted at the recommended seeding rate, etc. The cover crop may be the same crop prevented from planting and may still retain eligibility for a prevented planting payment. The cover crop planted cannot be used for harvest as seed or grain.”

Soybean is an acceptable cover crop as it is agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement.

To optimize the use of soybean as a cover crop, consider the following:

  1. Planting dates. USDA NRCS cover crop practice guidelines state that soybean should be planted between June 15 and August 15 in northern Ohio and June 1 and August 30 in southern Ohio.
  2. Plant in narrow rows. The USDA NRCS cover crop practice guidelines do not specify a row width for a soybean cover crop, but planting in less than 30-inch rows will maximize ground cover and improve weed suppression. DO NOT BROADCAST TREATED SEED. We want to minimize the risk of seed treatment exposure to non-target organisms.
  3. Seeding rate. USDA NRCS cover crop guidelines indicate that soybean should be seeded at 54 lb/acre if to be planted as a pure stand (100% soybean) cover crop. At a seed size of 2,800 seeds/lb, this would be a seeding rate of ~151,000 seeds/acre. Higher rates may be used; however, seed treatment labels may limit the amount of active ingredient per acre which can impact upper seeding rate limits.
  4. Check your license agreement and talk with your seed dealer. Most trait licenses have a clause stating that the crop can be used for “one commercial crop.” You will want to verify with your seed dealer that the cover crop represents a commercial crop prior to planting.

If you are interested in soybean as forage, please see last week’s article here for agronomic practices:

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