This past November, the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota hosted a grazing cover crops field day to allow those who are interested in the idea to see firsthand how an operation using cover crops is doing....
The soil is a precious commodity to the crop farmer, and so keeping it in its place must be a priority for them.
The challenge exists in finding ways to prevent wind and water erosion and at the same time helping to improve the bioactivity in that soil. One option that has been gaining interest among landowners and producers is utilization of cover crops.
This past November, the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota hosted a grazing cover crops field day to allow those who are interested in the idea to see firsthand how an operation using cover crops is doing.
The cover crop locations are part of a two-year study known as the Pasture Project, and one of the locations is on the Daniel Tiffany farm in rural Redwood Falls. The project is being supported by a conservation innovation grant through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The purpose of the project is to plant cover crop types in land being used for grazing to not only determine how well they preserve the soil but also how effective they are in the grazing rotation.
According to Tiffany, after hearing about the project he opted to get involved, because it gave him another option for the land he farms. In the end, said Tiffany it is about preserving the soil in the long-term but also about the economics of his operation.
Can this cover crop grazing program cash flow as he feeds his cattle on it, or would he make more money if he just planted all of the land in corn and beans?
According to Kent Solberg, a livestock and grazing specialist for the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, there are a number of reasons to put in cover crops as it relates to soil health, including minimizing tillage and diversification.
Tiffany has a number of varieties of cover crops growing on his farm, including hemp, cowpeas, vetch, clover, turnip, collards and sunflowers. He said the location of the cover crops provide a side-by-side comparison with other land he is farming with a traditional corn and soybean rotation.
Tiffany said tests on the land that has been in the program is showing what he called dairy quality vegetation. That, he added, is the ideal outcome for the project.
“Boosting the benefits of the soil benefits productivity,” said Solberg.
“The conversation is changing,” said Allison Van, program officer at the pasture project led by the Wallace Center at Winnrock International. “Agriculture is and must be part of the solution to water quality, climate change and other environmental problems.
“The challenge is to offer real opportunities that increase both farm profitability and sustainability. Grazing cover crops will, for some, be that opportunity.”
Cover crops, rotational grazing, crop rotation, reduced tillage, buffer strips and a dozen other conservation tools are available for reducing the environmental impact.
“Not every corn producer will rush out and plant multi-species cover crops and graze them,” said Van. “There’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution, but the rapid soil building effects of integrating these practices will be just the key for some fields.”
To learn more about the Pasture Project initiatives, visit www.pastureproject.org.
For more information about Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, vis-it www.sfa-mn.org.
(Liz Ruiz, program associate at the Wallace Center at Winnrock International contributed information and photos for this article)