Nebraska CIP Research Project: Comparing Alternative Uses of Land Currently in the CRP Program

Final Report for FNC95-096

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1995: $4,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


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 33 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.

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.

In the second year of the project, we built on what established the first year. We weighed cows and calves as they were turned out on pasture, in the middle of the grazing season and again as they were taken off pasture. This way we could monitor the performance of the cows and calves. We also gathered forage samples from each paddock as cattle were turned in for grazing. This way we could monitor the amount of available forage and the feeding value throughout the grazing season. We also fertilized cool and warm season grass paddocks to improve the existing forage. We held a field day demonstrating the two grazing systems, fencing, watering equipment and other aspects of the project. Several members of the group and I attended a two day grazing school in Missouri.

In this, the third year of the project, we continued to expand our experiments. We still gathered cow and calf performance data and fertilized certain paddocks. However, we established two 15-paddock legume interseeding trials that included side-by-side comparisons of frost seeding and drilling seven species of legumes (one legume had two drilled treatments). One trial was in switch grass and the other was in big bluestem. It will be several years before we can fully assess if we succeeded establishing these legumes. We also converted part of a paddock of switch grass to a cool season grass-legume mix.

In addition to the two grazing systems we compared in the first two years, we expanded the intense grazing system by utilizing strip grazing later in the season when forage growth exceeded the livestock’s capacity to keep it grazed at an appropriate height. We also hayed several of the paddocks at different times during the summer to stockpile excess forage and to monitor feeding value through the growing season. We held a field day this summer and in addition to the items mentioned above, we demonstrated several different types of temporary fencing that could be used. Another member of the group and I attended a two day warm season grass conference in Des Moines, Iowa this year.

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.

Steering Committee:
- 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
- Mark Jackson, Tekamah – local newspaper representative

Technical Advisors:
- Bruce Anderson, Extension Forage Specialist, University of Nebraska
- Neil Jensen, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Blair
- 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:
These are highlights of some of our activities in 1996. Most of these activities are new this year while several of the build on our past experiences.
• Two 15 treatment plots, each with seven legume species in side-by-side comparisons of frost seeding and drilling (one species had two drilled treatments), were established. One plot was in switch grass, the other in big bluestem. It is difficult to draw conclusions now and it may be three to five years before we can assess how well each species of legume established and persisted in the grass stands.
• We established an eight-acre plot converting a switch grass monoculture to a cool season grass-legume mix. This is important for the long-term productivity of the site by bringing the ratio of cool and warm season pasture into balance and also has implications for many producers because of the predominance of pure switch grass stands in area CRP plantings. Results looked very promising on this plot.
• Each year we have held at least one field day at the site. This year’s emphasis was on fencing materials and watering alternatives. We incorporated several types of temporary fence and posts in the paddocks being grazed and brought in Steve Melvin, extension educator in Nuckolls County, to address watering systems. About 60 area producers attended the tour and many other unable to attend picked up the printed material after the tour.
• To improve forage utilization, strip grazing paddocks was demonstrated for the first time this year. This was particularly effective when grass growth exceeded the ability of the livestock to graze the forage present. by strip grazing, we reduced waste from trampling tall vegetation which had been a problem in previous years under similar situations. There was a lot of interest in this management practice.
• We hayed several paddocks at different times during the summer to save the forage we couldn’t utilize by grazing and to track the forage’s nutritive value through the growing season. As expected yields increased but feeding value decreased as harvest was delayed for both switch grass and big bluestem.
• During the 1995 grazing season, we sampled each paddock as livestock was turned in for grazing. A forage analysis was run and this information was put in table form for use in educational activities this year and illustrated the yield and feeding value curve for each species of grass in the demonstration.
• For the second year, we weighed cows and calves as they were turned out on pasture, in the middle of the grazing season, and again when they were taken off pasture in the fall. Our data didn’t show a significant difference in gains on the cows or calves between the two grazing systems either year. We anticipated an advantage for the intense system over the simple system. However, one theory is cattle in the intense system weren’t rotated often enough to realize the advantage in performance.
• An advisory committee member and I attended a regional Warm Season Grass Conference in Des Moines, Iowa in August. This was useful since most producers are accustomed to managing cool season pastures but have very little experience with warm season grasses.
• A hay probe, purchased from grant funds, is available for checkout to encourage producers to sample their hay rather than guess at feeding or market value.

We have held a field day at the demonstration site each year. We advertised this field day through CFSA and NRD newsletters, local newspapers and radio stations, and the Midwest Messenger. There is a lot of interest and questions from producers. About 300 people attended our field days or have stopped to look at the site over the three years. We also informed producers about the CRP Grazing Project and encourage 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 13, 1996). Through these presentations we reached over 450 area producers and agri-business representatives. Our local paper has done several features on the project to inform the public and promote our field days. They also included a photo and cut line after the field day.


Participation Summary
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.