Interseeding cover crops and grazing cattle to improve soil health, water infliltration, and profitability within an Organic transition.

Progress report for FNC23-1375

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $29,968.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Getting Farms LTD
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Andrew Getting
Getting Farms LTD
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Andrew Getting has been row crop farming since 2009 and is actively transitioning 1900 acres from traditional row crop production to organic. Andrew's organic crop rotation includes corn, oats, cover crops, soybeans. He practices a six year crop roation to comply with organic standards and improve soil health. Andrew will drill oats and interseed cover crop mix as part of his crop rotation and organic transition plan. Andrew is currently transitioning the 113 acres to organic row crop production. He will harvest 56.5 acres of cover crop for hay while the remaining 56.5 acres will be grazed.
Aaron Alons has been raising cattle for 7 years and sells 100% grass fed beef direct to the consumer. Aaron rotationally grazes his cow/calf and finish cattle herd of about 60 head on 75 acres of diverse pasture in O'brien and Osceola County, Iowa. Over the last couple of years, Aaron transitioned 66 acres of row crop ground into diverse pasture for his cattle and he has an excellent understanding of the required infrastructure and the management needed to successfully graze cattle in a rotationally grazed system. Aaron will oversee the building of the required infrastructure to graze cattle on the 56.5 acres. He will also daily manage and move the cattle as they rotationally graze the cover crop. Aaron will coordinate with Practical Farmers of Iowa to conduct a PFI Field Day at the property in September of 2023 and Summer of 2024.


Soil health is a concern for farmers, however in Northwest Iowa cover crops are not widely used and livestock integration into a cover crop system is very rare. Organic fertilizer costs are currently over 50% of total expenses. We will explore whether livestock integration to graze cover crops improves soil health and/or reduces fertilizer input costs.

Equally dividing 113 acres into 2 areas, one with cover crop only and one with cover crop and rotational grazing, will allow us to see any differences between management with or without livestock.

Our research will test soil heath before and after the cover crop and grazing rotation using the Haney and PLFA soil health tests.  The Osceola County NRCS will perform water infiltration tests before and after the cover crop and livestock rotation.

Our research will also take into account any increase/decrease in corn yield in 2024 from livestock integration to non livestock integration.

Project Objectives:

March 2023, a Haney, PFLA soil health test will be completed in multiple areas of the 113 acre field to be planted.  A NRCS water infiltration test will also be completed by a NRCS field agent.

April 2023, the 113 acre parcel will be planted to oats interseeded with a cover crop blend of alfalfa, red and berseem clovers, and ryegrass. 

Late July, after oat harvest, the 113 acres will be divided in half to two 56.5 acre parcels.  One 56.5 acre parcel will be fenced with 4 wire high tensile fencing.  A water system will be installed to allow cattle to have access to water with each move they make through the parcel.  On or about August 1, about 60 head of cattle will be introduced to the parcel and rotationally grazed in smaller 3 acre paddocks.  All feeder cattle will be weighed before releasing them into the paddock.  Temporary paddocks will be made with plastic posts and electrified polywire.  The cattle will graze the paddock of cover crop mix from it's starting height of over 12" to a height no less than 4".  Then the cattle will move to the next paddock. The cattle will rotationally graze the 56.5 acres until at least November.  When the cattle are removed the feeder cattle will be weighed again to establish a rate of gain for these cattle.

March 2024, a second Haney, PFLA soil health test will be completed in multiple areas of the 113 acre field.  An NRCS water infiltration test will also be completed by an NRCS field agent.  We will compare the data from the 2 56.5 acre pieces.

May 2024, corn will be planted to the 113 acres.  We are hopeful that the grazed cover crop area will require less manure.



  • Measure the effect of rotational cattle grazing on the soil health of an organic transitional farm.
  • Successfully integrate livestock into a cover crop system which will provide the cattle with an excellent forage feed source that will bring a measurable weight gain for the feeder cattle.
  • Share preliminary findings through a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field day and Pasture Walk in September
  • Minimize the use of additional inputs within an Organic transition plan
  • Share final findings through a Practical Farmers of Iowa NW Iowa Grazers field day during the Spring of 2024


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Aaron Alons - Producer
  • Andrew Getting - Producer


Materials and methods:

Our process and timeline unfolded as follows:

April 11, 2023 we planted oats along with alfalfa and clover.  

May 3, 2023 a water infiltration test was performed finding equilibrium at 4.5 minutes.

July 19, 2023 oats were harvested and straw baled. The oats and alfalfa struggled to take off because of an unusually dry summer.  

August 15, 2023 we began running fence and preparing for water lines.

August 18, 2023 we took multiple soil samples for a Haney Test and for a Biological Soil Analysis (PLFA).  Sample 1 is 55 acres hayed. Sample 2 is 55 acres grazed. Sample 3 is rotational grazed existing pasture, Sample four is hayed.  

August 18, 2023 we began rotationally grazing cattle through the start of the 55 acres allotted to the cattle to graze.  


Research results and discussion:

Thus far our soil samples are as follows:

Soil samples for a Haney Test and for a Biological Soil Analysis (PLFA):

  • Sample 1 is 55 acres hayed
  • Sample 2 is 55 acres grazed
  • Sample 3 is rotational grazed existing pasture
  • Sample four is hayed.  

PLFA soil report SARE Haney soil report SARE

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Consultations
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

On September 19, 2023 we held a field day at the pasture to discuss our SARE grant and what we were seeing on the front end.  Practical Farmers of Iowa helped promote this field day.  This field day was also promoted over social media.

Our consultations were with our agronomist Neil Kottschade. 

In March 2024 we will be presenting on our SARE project at an NRCS field day event in Sheldon, IA.  

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.