Planting green adds resiliency to soil management, flexibility to crop production

Josh Kamp
Planting green is a cash crop establishment practice in which the seed is planted directly into a soil with a living cover crop.

Planting green is a cash crop establishment practice in which the seed is planted directly into a soil with a living cover crop. Within annual crop production, cover crops increase the number of days per year that a living root is present in the soil. 

Soil biology and plants form a symbiotic relationship to ensure that each other have access to required resources. Through photosynthesis, plant roots release sugar exudates to feed the soil biology while the soil biology ensures nutrient availability for plant uptake. 

This team approach balances the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soil which promotes soil health. Cover crops reduce the risk of soil erosion, reduce nutrient leaching, and improve surface and ground water quality while providing many other agronomic services when managed appropriately. 

Delaying the termination of cover crops until after the cash crop is planted has proven advantages for biomass yield, pest management, and soil nutrient accumulation. The four soil health principles are fulfilled when the practice of planting green is implemented within a planned crop rotation.

Soil is a living resource that continues to develop, and change based on five main soil formation factors: parent material, landscape position, vegetation, climate, and time.  These factors are a combination of inherent, meaning they are not easily changed and dynamic, meaning they can change easily with a shift in land use.  

Soil health is the continued capacity of a soil to
function as a vital, living ecosystem that sustains
plants, animals, and humans.

Due to this mix of inherent and dynamic factors, soils can become more resilient or become more fragile depending on the specific management according to soil health principles. Healthy soils have strong aggregate stability, meaning the soil resists breaking apart.  A well aggregated soil is at less risk of erosion, infiltrates more water, and allows deep root penetration by plants. 

Monitoring soil fertility and developing crop nutrient plans ensures that chemical characteristics of soils are balanced for profitable crop production.  Planting green is a conservation practice that can add resiliency to soil management and flexibility to crop production. 

Cover crop implementation is unique for each farm and requires farmer innovation to modify and adjust practices. Start small on a limited number of acres to learn about the management necessary to plant green. 

Ask about local cost share opportunities through county LCD, NRCS, or Farmer-Led Watershed groups to lessen the financial risk associated with demonstrating this new practice. And most importantly enjoy witnessing the changes in soil quality when soil functionality is increased.   

Next steps to take in preparation of planting green in 2023:

  1. Seek guidance from a local farmer or agronomist that has planted green, or contact a farmer mentor listed at,   
  2. Plant cool season/winter annual cover crops according to site specific recommendations from the Midwest Cover Crop Council at, following crop harvest
  3. Plan for spring cover crop termination by studying the following Extension resource at,     
  4. Contact your regional Extension Crops Educator for additional resources at,    
Josh Kamps

Josh Kamps is the Division of Extension Crops and Soils educator in Grant, Green, Iowa, and Lafayette Counties 

Extension University of Wisconsin-Madison