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Ohio State University Extension


Barley as a Cover Crop in Ohio

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Sarah Noggle; Educator; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County
Rachel Cochran; Extension Associate, Water Quality; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County

Information gathered from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) was used to compile this summary on how to use barley as a cover crop in Ohio. For more information, see the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and the Cover Crop Selector Tool found at: up of long, thin seed pod with multiple, straight, green strands growing out of the pod.


  • Hollow, jointed stems
  • Narrow, tapered leaves that are broader than most other grasses
  • Flower spikes with bearded appearance due to long awns

Cultural Traits

  • Winter annual
    • Spring varieties do not require vernalization to produce grains.
  • Minimum germination temperature: 38 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window (state average): Sept. 6–Oct. 19
    • Average fly-free date in Ohio is Sept. 28
  • Upright growth habit: 1.5–3.0 feet
  • Preferred soil pH: 6.0–7.0
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop barley.
Drought tolerance Very good
Shade tolerance Good
Flood tolerance Good
Low fertility tolerance Very good

Winter survival

  • The variety, planting date, and snow cover will affect winter survival.


  • Drilled at ¾–1½ inches
    • 50–75 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 55–75 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast without incorporation
    • 60–75 lb./acre (pure live seed)

Additional planting information:

  • 13,600 seeds per lb.
  • Plant after fly-free date (Sept. 28).
  • When planting on slopes or using for forage/grazing, increase seeding rate.
  • Broadcasting without incorporation is usually less dependable than drilling or broadcasting with incorporation.

Disclaimer: Rules for Financial Assistance Program Recipients
Individuals participating in financial assistance programs are required to follow Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Appendix A regarding seeding rates and dates. Failure to do so will jeopardize payments. Appendix A can be found in Ohio’s Field Office Technical Guide, Section 4, Ecological Sciences Tools:


  • Dry matter = 2,000–5,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation.

Additional performance information:

  • Consult herbicide labels for grazing restrictions prior to and during the growth of barley as a cover crop.
  • Residue lasts longer as barley approaches maturity because the carbon (C) to nitrogen (N) ratio changes and becomes harder to break down.
  • On a scale of excellent, very good, good, fair, poor, or excellent to poor, barley rates “fair” for early interseeding.
  • Barley is a host for Pasteuria penetrans root lesion nematode.
  • Nitrogen (N) release to the crop grown after barley is slow unless the barley is terminated in its mid-vegetative growth stage (12–18 inches).
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop barley.
Nitrogen scavenger Very good
Soil builder Very good

Erosion fighter

  • To improve erosion protection, do not fall till.
Weed fighter Very good
Grazing Very good
Quick growth Very good
Lasting residue Very good
Mechanical forage harvest Very good
Grain seed harvest Very good
Cash crop interseed Good


  • Tillage
    • If terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required.
  • Roller crimper
    • Roller crimping is the most difficult/variable termination method.
    • Crimp during the reproductive stage (full bloom).
  • Chemical

Additional termination information:

  • Barley can compete with the cash crop if the barley is not completely terminated.
  • It is best to terminate barley when the plants are small, except when rolling/crimping.
  • Mowing barley after heading may terminate it.
  • Spring barley will winter-kill when planted in the fall.
    • Winter survival is dependent on the plant variety, planting date, and winter conditions.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop barley.
Soil Impacts
Subsoiler Good
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Good
Compaction fighter Very good

Allelopathic (produces biochemicals that inhibit weeds)

  • dependent on the variety of barley
Very good
Chokes weeds Very good
Bears traffic Good
Short windows Excellent

Potential Disadvantages

Increased weed potential: could be a minor problem

Increased insects/nematodes: could be a moderate problem

Increased crop diseases: could be a moderate problem

  • Fusarium head blight can be a problem if small grains are planted within one year.
  • There can be disease problems (e.g., tan spot), depending on the crop rotation.

Hinders crops: could be a minor problem

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a moderate problem


This publication was adapted with consent from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) with content from the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and Cover Crop Selector Tool ( It was created under a joint project with MCCC to produce customized introductory guidance about cover crops for all member states/provinces. Ohio cover crop recipes can be found at

The Midwest Cover Crops Council ( aims to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest by providing educational/outreach resources and programs, conducting new research, and communicating about cover crops to the public.

Funding for this project was provided by the McKnight Foundation.

Red square with white lettering spelling McKnight Foundation.


Originally posted Mar 29, 2023.