Progress report for FNC22-1332
42 acres of row crop ground being converted to perennial pastures after 3 years of continuous cover crops. Cover crops were grazed by 30 cow/calf pairs and 10 ewe/lamb pairs. In addition to this field, we have ~95 acres of permanent pasture, consisting of 32 acres very long-term established native pasture & waterways, 55 acres converted to pasture in 2021 via oat/pea nurse crop, and 8 acres converted to pasture in 2020 spring-planted with no nurse crop, chemicals or fertilizers. We have been grazing cattle for 10 years, rotationally grazing for 6 of those, and rotating between 3-7 times a week for 3 of those.
Land is continuously becoming scarcer, so many graziers are looking for ways to effectively convert row crop land to perennial pastures. One approach becoming more popular is using continuous covers followed by establishing perennials. We want to compare fall- and spring-interseeding with a fall-planted nurse crop. The continuous covers combined with ruminants kickstarts the soil biology, the nurse crop suppresses weeds, and the baleage of the nurse crop generates cash flow to offset establishment costs.
We have a field that has been in continuous covers since October 2020. We want to graze diverse summer annuals in Summer 2022, followed by a mix of biennials in Fall 2022. We will add diverse perennials into half the field in the fall, and interseed the same perennials on the other half in Spring 2023. We will compare the nurse crop baleage quantity and quality, and pasture height in Fall 2023 to compare the plantings.
If spring-interseeding is economically comparable to fall, producers could plant the fall cover and postpone the commitment to converting the land until spring when they have more information about the upcoming marketing year. Communities also benefit from new perennial pastures being established through increased availability of local grass-fed proteins.
- Examine fall- and spring-planted perennial pastures within continuous cover crops on land historically used for row crops
- Compare nurse crop yields of fall-planted and spring-interseeded perennial pastures
- Evaluate changes in soil test results from subsequent years of continuous cover crops
- Share findings with other graziers through the Land Stewardship Project, social media websites, and via regenerative grazing group discussion
The Summer Annual mix was planted on June 4th, 2022. It was an 11-way mix: dwarf BMR sorghum-sudangrass, BMR grazing corn, kale, collards, safflower (baldy), mung beans, sunn hemp, african cabbage, plantain, chicory, and crimson clover. Our goal for blending the dwarf sorghum-sudangrass and grazing corn was to compare their growth performance. Additionally, we wanted regrowth after grazing which we heard wouldn't happen with grazing corn alone. We added several forbs and legumes for diversity in soil health. The plantains and chicory were added for their grazing qualities and also because they tend to come back as perennials long-term. They were also cheaper/easier to plant as part of the custom summer annual mix than trying to buy them individually and blend them into a grass/alfalfa mix in the fall planting.
The fall perennials were a hand-mixture of a grass pasture mix (Meadow fescue, tall fescue, festulolium, bromegrass, perennial ryegrass, orchardgrass, annual orchardgrass), grazing alfalfa, and medium red clover. The grasses were selected for long-term longevity under grazing conditions.
The fall perennials were mixed with Austrian winter peas for the winter nurse crop. Planting was done on 8/24/22 with 3 inches of rain coming spread out over the 5 days post-planting in a light drizzle. We would have liked to use Icicle winter peas as well, but we were unable to acquire these due to delayed harvest of new seedstock. If the Austrian winter peas don't overwinter, we will plan to inter-seed 4010 forage peas in the spring for additional protein and tonnage in the nurse crop forage. We had planned to use winter triticale with the nurse crop, but volunteer triticale and winter cereal rye was significant over the summer and into the fall planting window. Our agronomist advised against adding additional small grains as they could shade out the perennials we want to establish. If these volunteer plants don't overwinter adequately, we will plan to interseed oats in the spring as the nurse crop.
As of November 9, 2022, the perennial grasses are up to 6 inches tall after a nice combination of 3/4" rain and 60 degrees F for the week prior.
Improved Landscape Diversity: Number of Species
Prior to our first turn-out (August 2nd, 2022), the number of species that grew to a grazable height was limited, compared to the diversity in our summer annual mix (listed above). The species we were able to identify at a grazable height included: volunteer triticale, winter cereal rye, hairy vetch, sorghum-sudangrass, grazing corn, sunn hemp, collards, medium red clover (was not planted, but has shown up via herd impact and wind spread from neighboring pastures), and kale. Giant ragweed and hairy vetch regrowth were the highest density plants on the 42-acre field. Due to the high density of ragweed, we decided to brush-hog the field to avoid large stems in next year's nurse crop hay. One observation after mowing was the sorghum-sudan grass grew much more rapidly, and the crimson clover spread significantly. Additional species such as african cabbage, plantain and chicory also became much more populous. The kale regrowth was significantly better than the initial pre-mowing growth. The second turn-out on the field was on November 10th, 2022. Growth was lackluster due to us transitioning from no drought to a D1 drought during the time between first grazing and second grazing. However, diversity was strong and the plantain and red/crimson clovers were relatively strong growers. The perennial grasses were 2-6" tall as of November 10th, so the ~20 acres with perennials planted will not be grazed a second time with the hopes that it will give us better first-cutting hay yields or earlier grazing opportunities.
Improved Soil Quality/Health
Results from our first year-over-year soil test: Phosphorous had a strong increase of 46%. Potassium decreased 2.33%, however this was attributed to a different testing method that only tested the bioavailable potassium instead of all potassium present. The median pH change was 0. Organic matter median change was +0.1 percentage point. Calcium increased 19%. Magnesium increased 28.6%. CEC increased 2%.
The next soil sample test (April 2023) will extend our results to a 2-year-over-year comparison on the above factors and will also provide year-over-year change data on Nitrogen, zinc, sulfur, boron, manganese, and copper.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We had a field day in July 2022 where farmers/ranchers were able to view the summer annuals for grazing and the second-year growth of a different field converted to perennial pastures in a different method.
We plan to have another field day in October 2023 per our project proposal.
- Hairy vetch overwintered in our southeastern minnesota farm (zone 4b) over the winter of 2021-2022. Having 15% of the winter mix seemed to be too much because it was very high density in summer 2022 and posed concerns of vetch toxicity. We did not have any issues with the vetch toxicity, but it was dry and we waited for it to die back from maturity. We also moved the cows quickly across the field.
Pending final report