Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster, Ron Hays, had the chance to visit with Kansas State University associate professor and Beef Systems Specialist, Jaymelynn Farney talking about planting strategies to improve soil health and forage quality.
“The concept and what we really looked at with the integration of cattle in cropping systems is the ability to reduce the risk within your operation,” Farney said. “By that, I mean strictly from an economic standpoint, it allows you to possibly raise two different crops.”
By raising two different crops, Farney is referring to a cow crop and a grain crop.
“There are several really good benefits to integration,” Farney said.
One of those benefits, she added, includes improved nutrient cycling.
“Typically, when your margins are really good in the cattle industry is when we have our lowest grain prices and vice versa,” Farney said. “So, it allows you to be able to stay within our agricultural community longer. It also has soil health benefits. Manure is one of the quickest ways to add organic matter to your operation, so there are several benefits.”
Planting an annual forage, Farney said, will help to reduce the amount of erosion and help hang on to benefited top soil.
In the southeast area of Kansas, Farney said they grow three crops in two years. The diversity in cropping systems, she added, benefits the soil by not planting the same crop two times in a row.
“We don’t see huge benefits just strictly from the cover crop itself,” Farney said. “We will see greater improvements in our soil properties with the manure. That is where we see a more readily usable form of soil nutrients and especially the organic matter.”
For cattle owners wanting to take the plunge, Farney recommends starting out with something simple.
“It is very complex,” Farney said. “We have got to figure out what your goals are and how to balance each of those components.”
An example of a simple starting approach, Farney said, would be planting sorghum-sudan grass and adding in sunn hemp. This mixture, Farney added, is great for putting nitrogen back into the soil system.
Farney said is also important to graze these forages properly.
“If you don’t purposefully graze when it needs to be grazed, it can get woody and that does no good for the cattle,” Farney said. “A lot of these, especially the summer annuals, need some rotational grazing, so you need to do some staggered planting dates to be able to keep your quality.”
The bottom line, Farney said, for people wanting to start planting a cover crop is to start with something simple. That way it is not overwhelming, they can have a good experience, and they can learn and improve as time goes on.
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