Southern Plains Perspective: Random climate smart agriculture thoughts and stories…cover crops, soil health, grazing research etc.

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This past week, the USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub had a booth at the 3I farm show in Dodge City, Kansas. I was there with my Daughter Madeleine manning the booth (say Hi Maddy).

            Madeleine assisting at the USDA Climate Southern Plains Climate Hub booth

Because of this, I’m taking a little different approach to the blog this week and highlighting a few climate smart/soil health/conservation type articles that I have come across this week during breaks at the booth.

First, if you live in the southern plains (or follow this blog), you know how dry it has been in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  With dry weather, exposed soil, and high winds, you have the recipe for dust in the air. It’s important that producers understand what they can do to control erosion and hold their soil in place.  This is the situation described in a news story from Lubbock, Texas, titled ‘West Texas farmers use cover crops, clodding to fight soil erosion.’  It’s a great piece about how good land treatment practices can help address this serious natural resource issue.

Next is an article describing an initiative by USDA, the Farmers For Soil Health Initiative, NCGA, the United Soybean Board, The National Pork Board, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife utilizing $95 million from the USDA Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities program to increase cover crop usage and develop new markets for conservation minded-producers.   My favorite quote from the article comes from Indiana farmer J.R. Roesner, chair of the Ethanol Action Team for the National Corn Growers Association.  He says that USDA is helping farmers to advance soil health practices. “And, reach the needs of our consumers, generate some extra revenue, and have the freedom to farm like we’ve had in the past.”

Finally, most producers in parts of Oklahoma normally spend the first part of March pulling cattle off winter wheat pasture. Harvest (if you have wheat to cut—thanks to drought) will be coming later in the spring-early summer.  After that, folks who use soil health practices will be planting summer cover crops, many acres of which (if we get moisture and a good stand) will be grazed.   

With that in mind, I searched for information on grazing summer cover crops following winter wheat.  What I found first was an interesting video from Kansas State University featuring Research Extension beef cattle specialist Sandy Johnson discussing grazing cattle on cover crops in western Kansas, an area where some folks feel cover crops won’t work because of lower average annual rainfall.

In the video, Johnson explains how in studies conducted with cooperating farmers and on research plots, K-State researchers have found that grazing covers in Western Kansas can be an option for producers.

“There are challenges, but these are all manageable,” she said. “If you’re interested in incorporating cover crops to get some soil health benefits and improve water infiltration, I think that can still be compatible with livestock use in western Kansas. We always have to balance that trade-off between our crop goals and livestock goals, but many people are making it happen, and you can, too.”  You can also check out a fact sheet Kansas State put out on grazing cover crops here.

Enjoy your week, and if you made it to the 3I show, we hope you came by and said Hi!

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