My farm, located in the rolling hills southwest of Tekamah, is a diversified operation with approximately 160 acres of corn, 160 acres of soybeans and 120 acres of alfalfa. I also have 20 acres of brome grass pasture and 50 acres of CRP which is seeded to switch grass and big bluestem. I presently have 22 cows in my herd with a goal of expanding to 45-50 head. I manage my operation to reduce erosion, take advantage of the benefits of crop rotations and integrate crop and livestock operations in an environmentally sound system.
I had been realizing the benefits of sustainable practices prior to this grant, particularly with my crop production system. I worked with our local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly SCS) and Cooperative Extension office on developing a crop rotation and residue management system which reduced the erosion in the mid-1980’s, before conservation compliance! Field demonstration plots on my farm were used as part of their educational tours. I shared what I had learned from my experiences with other area producers attending these tours.
I have also reduced my fertilizer applications, particularly nitrogen, by taking advantage of legumes in my crop rotation and through soil testing. This helps me reduce my production costs while maintaining yields and lessens the chances of excess nutrients leaching into the groundwater.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
As part of the Nebraska CRP Research Project, I will demonstrate alternative uses for CRP as contracts expire. I will gain experience with two advanced grazing management techniques and will collect data on the economics of these systems as compared to row crop production. I will share this information with others in a variety of ways.
I will conduct this demonstration until the fall of 1996 when my CRP contract expires. Over three years, I will be able to fine-tune my grazing program and gather data over several years’ conditions. This will be better than making conclusions after one year and one set of conditions. It will also allow producers to see how my system changed and allow them to learn from my experiences, making adoption of similar systems easier.
The major accomplishments in my first year of this demonstration were to establish fencing and watering systems and carrying capacity on the pasture. I started by burning off old residue so these systems could be installed. I utilized local resource people as well as specialists at the University of Nebraska. I also attended a local pasture management tour and intensive grazing meeting. I also toured a similar project in Corning, Iowa with a group of area producers. I then applied this information to my operation as we established two grazing systems in the demonstration.
A number of people have helped directly and indirectly to establish this project. They are divided into two groups, a steering committee and technical advisors. The members and their roles are listed below.
– Ron Bopp, Hooper – cow-calf producer
– John Brodahl, West Point – veterinarian, cow-calf producer
– Rodney Bromm, Tekamah – cow-calf producer
– Rick Burmeister, Fort Calhoun – cow-calf producer
– Stewart Hartwell, Oakland – veterinarian
– Dan Magill, Herman – banker, cow-calf producer
– Kenny Rahlfs, Blair – feed dealer
– Lyle Schjodt, Blair – cow-calf producer
– Tom Schweers, Blair – fencing and equipment dealer
– Leland Sunderman, Lyons – cow-calf producer
– Bill Wolf, Tekamah – local newspaper representative
– Bruce Anderson, Extension Forage Specialist, University of Nebraska
– Neil Jensen, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Blair
– Ray Jensen/Cindy Hall – Consolidated Farm Service Agency, Blair
– Ray Massey, Extension Farm Management Specialist, University of Nebraska
– Ralph Puls, Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District, Omaha
– Rick Rasby, Extension Beef Specialist, University of Nebraska
– John Wilson, Cooperative Extension, Tekamah
RESULTS & DISCUSSION
This year I got my project organized and going. As part of the Nebraska Demonstration Project, I will continue to build on this through the fall of 1996 when my CRP contract expires. This year I learned a lot about building fences and watering systems and establishing grazing rotations. I discovered I don’t have an ideal mix of grasses. I hope to compensate for this by selective fertilization in years to come.
Also, because of the timing, the University of Nebraska was not able to provide a uniform group of cattle and we were not able to measure gains per acre during the grazing period. Next year, this will be possible which will provide hard data that I believe will support my observations. I believe I was able to use existing forage more efficiently than I would have in a “traditional” grazing system for this area.
I also learned that switch grass, the predominant species in CRP plantings in our area, can be used for grazing of hay if managed properly. However, I also saw what happened when it was not utilized effectively and allowed to mature. This provides an extra challenge. I cut hay on one paddock, getting almost 3 tons per acre with fair to good feeding value. This way I stockpiled forage until a time when grass supplies were low.
We held a field day at the demonstration site in September to show what we had established so far. We advertised this field day through CFSA and NRD newsletters, local newspapers and radio stations, and the Midwest Messenger. Although we were just getting organized, we did have a lot of interest and questions. About 80 people attended even though area farmers were starting soybean harvest by the field day date. We also informed producers about the CRP Grazing Project and encouraged them to attend future educational activities at the demonstration site through slide and oral presentations at the Crop Protection Clinic, Fremont (January 5, 1995); Breakthroughs with Intensive Grazing, Fremont (January 14, 1995); and When the CRP Contract Expires…, Lyons, (February 28, 1995). An oral presentation was also made at the Converting CRP to Haying or Grazing coffee shop meeting, Lyons, (March 10, 1995). Through these presentations we reached over 350 area producers and agri-business representatives.
Our local paper did a feature story on the project in September to promote the field day. They also included a photo and cutline after the field day.