Learning About the Benefits of Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems on Soil Health

Final report for ENC15-144

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $73,861.00
Projected End Date: 05/01/2019
Grant Recipient: South Dakota State University
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Julie Walker
South Dakota State University
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Project Information


This professional development program provided training to a group of agricultural advisors (18 individuals) from diverse disciplines, primarily Extension and NRCS personnel, on measures of soil health and other indicators of sustainable production in integrated crop-livestock systems. Teams of advisors worked together to learn about the case study process and used this knowledge to assess their assigned producer (case study). Each team of ag advisors worked with a successful producers who utilize integrated crop/livestock systems, including the grazing of cover crops, for management of soil health, advisors will increase their understanding of the decisions being made within complex, diverse agricultural operations. Each team presented their newly obtained information at a workshop for all of the project personnel and other advisors. The six teams of ag advisors and project personnel developed summary of the similar technologies used within each of the six case studies. Based on these technologies utilized, several education concepts were developed to provide educational opportunities to train and demonstrate the impact on maintenance and improvement of soil health and other components of sustainable production through integrated crop-livestock systems.

Project Objectives:

We propose to provide crop and livestock extension, NRCS and other land management and agricultural advisory personnel improved tools for assisting producers in improving and maintaining soil health through integrated crop/livestock systems. Specifically:

  1. To better understand how individuals successfully integrate crops and livestock onto their operations
  2. To evaluate the benefits of successful integration on soil health measures
  3. To share these ideas from differing regions within the state and to seek out commonalities
  4. To use the increased understanding to develop curriculum and programs for training and demonstration of maintenance and improvement of soil health through integrated crop-livestock systems



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Educational approach:

Case studies on producer's operations that use crop-livestock integration system will be utilized to increase Ag professionals understanding of the benefits of crop-livestock integration production systems.


Education & Outreach Initiatives

One-day training on Crop-Livestock Integration for Participants

Provide participants with guidelines for collecting comparable information to increase understanding of crop-livestock integration systems.
Participants will learn techniques to measure aspects of sustainable crop-livestock production.


A train the trainer meeting was conducted on April 11 and 12, 2016 to sharing the expectation of the program with agricultural professional participants. The meeting started with the project objectives and expectations. Next, Josh Fergen, Sociology Graduate Student, explained the methodology of using Case Studies to collect information. Short 30-minute presentations of the type of information to collect from each of the various areas (soil, grass, livestock, crops and economics) of production were provided to the participants as well as the correct soil sampling procedures. Additionally, teams of participants had the opportunity to develop a plan how they would conduct the 4 case study visits over the next year. Teams are comprised of Extension Field Specialists, NRCS staff and agronomic consultants.

Outcomes and impacts:

Six teams of individuals from SDSU Extension, NRCS and crop advisors were assigned to one of six teams.

All six teams have completed at least two visit to their assigned case study location.

Soil testing has been completed at five of the six locations.

Two-day Final Report Workshop

Participants will share “what they learned about their case study” to increase the understanding of how successful crop-livestock integration systems works.


The 2-day workshop was conducted on January 10 and 11, 2018 for each agricultural advisor team to present their evaluation report from their case study visits as well as the entire agricultural professional discussing the similarity and differences between the case studies. The workshop started with each case study team presenting their evaluation report to the entire group. Next, Roger Gates facilitated the development of determining to similarities and differences between each of the six case studies. Next, the group of agricultural professional developed a list of action step that could be used to promote crop and livestock integration on other producers operations. Additionally, SDSU Extension and SD NRCS found several options to work together to develop educational materials for producers.

Outcomes and impacts:

Six teams of individuals from SDSU Extension, NRCS and crop advisors presented their evaluation report for their case study.
Soil testing has been completed at all six locations. Based do their results some additional soil testing may be conducted.

Northern States Beef Conference (Cover Crop Presentations)

Provide producers with information on the various management aspects of cover crops/annual forages to utilize with grazing livestock (beef cattle)


Three presentations were given as part of the Northern States Beef Conference on December 12 & 13, 2018 in Watertown, SD. These presentations/panels shared research and ideas on how crops and livestock can work together to improve the producer’s financial situation as well as the benefits to the natural resources (soil, water and grass).

  1. Cover Crop Agronomic Considerations, Anthony Bly
  2. Forage Scenarios for Beef Cattle Production, Alexander “Sandy” Smart
  3. Panel of producers: Integrating Crops and Livestock to Manage Costs; Jim Wulf, Mark Erickson, Jared Namken, and Jared Knock
Outcomes and impacts:

Producers and ag advisors increased their knowledge of incorporating cover crops into their cropping systems to benefits the soil health and additional feedstuffs for beef cattle.

Producers and ag advisors had the opportunities to interact with producers currently using crop-livestock integration systems on their operations. 

Ag advisors trained at through this SARE grant taking their new knowledge out to producers.

IPM Field School – Cover Crop Section

Provided training to professionals (participants) of the IPM Field School on incorporation and management of cover crops into production systems.


This IPM Field School was in 2018 with 34 professionals in attendance. The three topics covered within the IPM Field School on Cover Crops focus were:

  1. Cover crops, presenters David Karki and Sara Berg
  2. Carbon/Nitrogen/Soil Health, Anthony Bly
  3. Herbicides and Cover Crop interactions, Gared Shafer
Outcomes and impacts:

Professionals learned about the management of covers crops and their impact on soil health parameters.

SDSU Extension programs and articles

Provide producers with the information required to successfully incorporate cover crops into their cropping systems.
Provide producers with the information on how livestock can utilize various crops and the potential improvement in soil health.

  1. 2018 Soil Health School - David Karki, Sara Berg, Gared Shafer and Anthony Bly
    1. David Karki and Gared Shafer visited with farmers about using cover crops
    2. Anthony Bly visited about planting and soil fertility in soil health systems
  2. 2018 Soil Health and Cover Crops presentation – Anthony Bly
    1. 17 events total – (workshops, field days, extension meetings)
    2. 509 participants total (estimated 150 ag advisors)
  3. 2019 Soil Health and Cover Crops presentation – Anthony Bly
    1. 13 events total prior to May 2019 – (includes workshops, field days and extension meetings)
    2. 695 participants in total (estimated 175 ag advisors)
  4. 2018 and Spring 2019 “Managing Cover Crops in the Upper Midwest” or “Opportunities and Challenges” – David Karki
    1. Presentations at numerous locations such as: Watertown Crops Expo, Brookings Crops Clinic, IPM Field Schools
    2. Participants include local producers, college students, NRCS personnel and industry professionals (~350 individuals)
  5. SDSU Extension articles
    1. Cover Crops 2019 – What to Plant When (Anthony Bly & David Karki)
    2. Cover Crop Considerations for Planting Season 2019 (Anthony Bly & David Karki)
    3. Delayed Planting Challenges: Cover Crop Considerations (Anthony Bly)
    4. Soil Health: the Foundation of Life
  6. USDA NRCS YouTube video “Cover Crop Nutrient Cycling in South Dakota” April 18, 2019 (Video of Anthony Bly)
Outcomes and impacts:

Producers and ag advisors increased understanding of potential cover crops management that can be utilized to improve or maintain soil health within their operations.


Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Consultations
2 Other educational activities: One-day initial workshop for participants and Two-day Evaluation Report Workshop

Participation Summary:

12 Extension
2 Researchers
9 Farmers/ranchers
3 Others

Learning Outcomes

30 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
18 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This Professional Development Program is designed to provide agricultural advisors with a better understanding of how crop-livestock integration production systems works as well as the benefits from implementing this production system. Eighteen participants have gained knowledge from their assigned case studies (producers conducting crop-livestock production system) on why and how they (producers) are making management decisions to improve their production operation. 

In 2018 and 2019, agricultural advisors that participated within this Professional Development Program have taken the information gained through this program and incorporated it into their Extension programming when working with other ag advisors and farmers/producers.  Extension programming would include presentations, hands-on demonstrations and Extension articles.

25 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
Additional Outcomes:

Some key points that we learned through this program.

  1. All of the producers we evaluated had some sort of "niche" enterprise.
  2. Diversification is another key point
  3. PFLA fungi was greater from fields that had cover crops and grazed compared to non-grazed fields. Fungi is very important for plants since it helps with nutrient uptake
  4.  An individual producer/farmer indicated that he is operating today because of using no-till and cover crops.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.