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Ohio State University Extension


Pearl Millet 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 pearl millet 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: view of field filled with plants that have long, tannish-colored seed pods growing at the end of single stems, growing above broad, grass-like leaves.


  • Upright bunchgrass
  • Broad, flat, pointed leaves with serrated edges
  • Cattail-like inflorescences

Cultural Traits

  • Summer annual
  • Minimum germination temperature: 65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window (state average): May 20–Sept. 6
  • Upright growth habit: 2–4 feet
  • Preferred soil pH: 5.5–7.5
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop pearl millet.
Heat tolerance Excellent
Drought tolerance Excellent
Low fertility tolerance Very good
Winter survival Winter-killed


  • Drilled at ½–1 inch
    • 10–15 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 11–17 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast without incorporation is not recommended

Additional planting information:

  • 82,000 seeds per lb.
  • When planting on slopes or using for forage/grazing, increase seeding rate.

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 = 1,500–4,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation

Additional performance information:

  • Nitrate toxicity can be a concern.
  • Graze at 24–30 inches to reduce the risk of nitrate toxicity.
  • Mid-season cutting increases root penetration.
  • Pearl millet does not tolerate shade, flooding, or ponding.
  • Pearl millet is the best-known cover crop for reduction of penetrans root lesion nematode population densities, but this can be variety specific.
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop pearl millet.
Nitrogen scavenger Very good
Soil builder Very good
Erosion fighter Very good
Weed fighter Very good
Grazing Excellent
Quick growth Excellent
Lasting residue Very good
Mechanical forage harvest Excellent


  • Tillage
    • If terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required
  • Chemical
  • Winterkill

Additional termination information:

  • After pearl millet grows to a height of 2 or more feet, mowing it to a height of less than 2 inches may terminate it.
  • Mowing pearl millet after heading may terminate it.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop pearl millet.
Soil Impacts
Subsoiler Good
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Good
Nematodes Good
Disease Very good
Allelopathic (produces biochemicals that inhibit weeds) Very good
Chokes weeds Excellent
Bears traffic Very good
Short windows Excellent

Potential Disadvantages

Increased weed potential: occasionally a minor problem

  • Millets cultivated for grain could make enough seed to consider them a potential weed.

Increased insects/nematodes: occasionally a minor problem

Hinders crops: occasionally a minor problem

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a moderate problem

  • Pearl millet does not germinate/thrive in cold soil.


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 31, 2023.