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Variety Stated: Advancing Cover Crop Genetics and Performance

Advances in cover crop species and variety evaluation, development and breeding will hopefully soon make seed bag tags with “Variety Not Stated” (VNS) the odd rarity, not the norm.


Pictured Above: DEFINITE DIFFERENCE. A variety trial at the University of Illinois Ewing Demonstration Center shows clear differences in variety performance. Kentucky Pride crimson clover, on the left, was developed by the University of Kentucky for improved cold tolerance. On the right is Dixie crimson clover, a variety from the 1950s used for re-seeding pastures that hasn’t been improved since its introduction

The steady rise of cover crop use and interest in recent years has plant breeders, geneticists, agronomists, cropping systems researchers, government agencies, universities and seed companies turning their attention to making the practice a success. Each treads one of the following paths to improving cover crop species and their use in a cropping system:

  1. Cover crop field trials assessing best practices and geographies for currently available varieties.
  2. Introducing varieties from other countries or from heritage lines. 
  3. Breeding new germplasm lines and introducing new varieties.
  4. Using gene sequencing to advance positive traits.

Each method will deliver, or already has delivered, more functional and successful options for farmers looking to work cover crops into their farming systems. No matter their success or lack of it in the past, the advances made in understanding and developing cover crop varieties should have farmers looking into regionally adapted varieties each year to take advantage of the most current genetic advancements.

“It’s an exciting time. We’ve made a lot of headway with cover crop improvement in the last 10 years and in the next 10 years I wouldn’t be surprised to see double, to…

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Martha mintz new

Martha Mintz

Since 2011, Martha has authored the highly popular “What I’ve Learned About No-Till” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002.


Growing up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, Martha is a talented ag writer and photographer who lives with her family in Billings, Montana.

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