MSU Cover Crop Team Webinar Series: Soil biology benefits of cover crops

The fourth webinar in this series highlights research at MSU looking at the impact of cover crops on the health and diversity of the soil microbial community, and effects on corn yield.

Annual rye and hairy vetch cover crops interseeded in the spring in standing corn.
Annual rye and hairy vetch cover crops interseeded in the spring in standing corn. Photo by Lisa Tiemann.

One aspect of soil health is the capacity of the soil to increase crop production over a sustained period of time. The presence of a diverse community of soil organisms is one factor that influences the health of soils. These soil organisms perform many functions, such as pest and disease control, nutrient cycling and forming symbiotic relationships with plant roots.

Soil organic matter comes from microorganisms breaking down and decomposing plant residues into the soil. It also comes from the dead and decaying microorganisms themselves. Farmers care about soil organic matter because it is important for soil structure and increases water holding capacity. In addition to increasing soil organic matter, microbial decomposition also releases nitrogen and makes it available to crops. To build soil carbon and ensure plants have nitrogen they need for growth, farmers need to embrace practices that improve the health and functioning of soil microbial community.

For more information on this project contact Lisa Tiemann at

Cover crop information and resources are available through MSU Extension’s Cover Crops website and the Midwest Cover Crops Council, or contact Dean Baas at

Other articles in this series

This work is supported by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program 2017-70006-27175 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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