Working Alternatives to Re-cropping Marginal Lands

Final Report for LNC06-271

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $100,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Chris Nelson
Southern Iowa Forage & Livestock Committee
Co-Coordinators:
Melissa Maynes
Southern Iowa Forage & Livestock
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Project Information

Summary:

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Research and Demonstration Project and farm utilized a student Grazing Intern, three grazing management systems and styles, constructed a pond water access site, and provided on-site adult education field days and group tours. They displayed success in fall calving operations, fall pasture weaning of spring calves, and successful demonstration of annual grass utilization for renovation of excessive fescue pastures. Rotational grazing management supplied ample forage including cool and warm season grasses. Rural water and grazing studies and patch-burn grazing studies were initiated.

2009 included the private sale of the research farm site and the auctioning of all the fencing, cattle management and water system equipment from the CRP Farm Project northeast of Corning.To make use of these funds, a grant program has been designed. The program will provide money to producers or groups for programs, projects, and demonstrations which further The Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee’s (SIFLC) mission.

The committee also completed a publication entitled “Maximizing Profitability on Highly Erodible Land in Iowa.” It uses the grazing data collected at the Adams County CRP Research and Demonstration Farm and compares six options for land currently in CRP. With high grain prices, going back to row-crops on this land can look like a good option. When the costs of erosion are also considered, however, the best options, even with no-till row crops, shift to keeping this land in grass. Thanks to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture for cooperating on this project.

Introduction:

This project was the “first in the nation project” to receive permission from the USDA to demonstrate economically feasible and environmentally sound agricultural production on land currently enrolled in CRP. The project is an interagency, cooperative effort and has received national recognition for its efforts.

The mission of this project was to reduce the conversion of existing private agricultural grassland to row crop production. The project promoted sustainable livestock grazing to a diverse group of owners and producers. Targeted was highly erodible land (HEL) expiring from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). This project included 11 different outcomes. All outcomes promoted grassland conservation. Outcomes were accomplished through sponsoring on and off-site producer field days, constructing a conservation water site demonstration, promoting grassland wildlife, providing a demonstration facility, providing a grazing school, and developing an Extension grazing bulletin on grazing profitability analysis plus an informational grazing brochure.

A unique key SIFLC input of this project was the established CRP Farm, and its rotational-grazing demonstrations, producing profitable livestock in a sustainable and well documented manner. This proposal combined the CRP Demonstration Farm facility with SIFLC’s multi-partner structure, the educational resources of experienced cattlemen, Iowa State University Extension researchers, specialists, and local agents, and NRCS experts. The Iowa State University research farm system has reduced their grassland field activities and staff greatly in recent years. That made the SIFLC cooperative demonstration farm more valuable and this project allowed us to continue as a hands-on resource for producers and landowners statewide, but particularly, in southern Iowa and northern Missouri. Results of the demonstrations and research were published in the Iowa State University research reports and the yearly SIFLC Annual Report.

The Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee (SIFLC) experienced major change in 2008 with the death of the CRP project farm owner, Juanita Cooley. Her death precipitated listing the 480 acre CRP farm for sale. The year’s demonstration activities at the farm proceeded pretty much as normal. However, by the end of the year, despite the hope of the committee that demonstration efforts would continue with a new owner, it became clear that the likelihood of that happening was very slim. Consequently, in October, the committee made the decision to remove all pasture fence and water systems and end demonstration activities at the “CRP Farm”. The committee voted unanimously to continue their mission of promoting environmentally sound and economically feasible management on highly erodible land. The difference is that these demonstrations and field days were held on producer farms rather than on the CRP Farm NE of Corning.

Project Objectives:
  • Adult Forage Field Day events planned - 2 per year

    Pond Water Limited Access Development- 1 scheduled

    Grazing Intern employment - 1 per year

    Collection of Data from CRP Farm demonstrations - Annual report planned

    Grazing School and Annie's Project - 1 of each planned during grant period

    Warm Season Grass conversion with herbicide in a grazing system - 1 planned per year

    Warm Season Grass conversion without herbicide in a grazing system - 1 planned per year

    Wildlife and Forage compatibility study - 1 study planned

    Grazing Costs Comparison Bulletin - 1 publication planned

    Patch Burn Grazing Study - 1 planned

    Rural Water and Beef Cow Usage Study - 1 planned

    Grazing Curriculum Development

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Lyle Frey

Research

Materials and methods:

This project provided on and off-farm demonstrations, and educational field day events dealing with cropping choices, forage improvement, species conversion, rotational management, watering needs and energy alternatives. Special emphasis was given to wildlife habitat enhancement and showing methods to manage for wildlife production along with forages. Specific examples are listed in other sections of this report.

Research results and discussion:
  • Adult Forage Field Day events planned - During the duration of this grant over 14 field day events were held.

    Pond Water Limited Access Development- One pond access was built in July of 2007.

    Grazing Intern employment - A grazing intern was employed each year until the sale of the farm necessitated changes to our project.

    Collection of Data from CRP Farm demonstrations - An Annual Report of the activities was produced and printed each year.

    Grazing School and Annie's Project - Numerous grazing school activities and Annie's Project series were held during the grant period.

    Warm Season Grass conversion with herbicide in a grazing system - This demonstration was done in conjunction with the Grazing with Wildlife Study which concluded in 2008.

    Warm Season Grass conversion without herbicide in a grazing system -This demonstration was also completed in conjunction with the Grazing with Wildlife Study which concluded in 2008.

    Wildlife and Forage compatibility study - The study began in 2005 and continued to completion in 2008.

    Grazing Costs Comparison Bulletin - Publication of the bulletin occurred in February 2010. The publication CRP 22 - "Maximizing Profitability on Highly Erodible Land in Iowa" is available from Iowa State University.

    Patch Burn Grazing Study - A patch-burn and grazing land management practice calls for approaches that mimic the historical interaction between fire and grazing to produce a more dynamic landscape. Here, discrete areas (or patches) are burned in contiguous, unfenced (no cross fences) grasslands. Recently burned patches have a higher probability of being grazed and a lower probability of burning until fuel can accumulate. Areas that have not been burned in several years have a higher probability of fire and a lower probability of being grazed. The result is a shifting mosaic of vegetation that mimics the historic condition of native grasslands. Benefits to grazing animals, wildlife, and the grassland itself are inherent to using this fenceless “rest-rotational” grazing system. Initially planned as a multi-year study, this project had to be concluded due to the sale of the research farm land.

    Rural Water and Beef Cow Usage Study - Initially planned as a five year study this project had to be completed in year three due to the sale of the research farm land. The focus of the study was the feasibility and cost effectiveness of using commercial rural water in a beef cow grazing system.

    Grazing Curriculum Development - This project will establish a series of eight power point presentations, to be used primarily by Vocational Agriculture Departments to provide Grazing Management Education to their students. It may also be used by other groups or organizations for staff training or by individual producers. The primary resource for the curriculum is the Pasture Management Guide developed by Iowa State University. A power point presentation will be developed from each of the chapters in the guide: Livestock Management; Managing Pasture Plants; Managing Risk in a Grazing System; Monitoring and Evaluating the Grazing System; Planning for Improvements in the Grazing System. In addition 2 presentations will be developed on fence and water systems utilizing Missouri Watering Systems for Serious Graziers and Missouri Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers respectively. Both publications were produced by Missouri USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service. There is also a presentation on Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows utilizing a publication with the same name from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. The power point presentations will be copied onto CD’s and along with a copy of each publication will be provided to the participating schools. The curriculum is currently in the final stages of development with completion and distribution planned for Summer 2011.

Research conclusions:

In a very concerted effort to provide grazing education and opportunity, the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee provided three different demonstrations of management style to grazing producers. All can be compared to the typical continuous grazing method with improved results.

Our north grazing system demonstrated smaller paddock, faster rotational grazing on fall calving cows. In conjunction with that, it was also the site for Grazing with Wildlife compatibility study of grassland bird nesting. We demonstrated establishment and grazing native warm season grass (WSG) into existing introduced cool season grass vegetation. Two methods of establishment were used. One was the more traditional method of using glyphosate herbicide to kill existing vegetation prior to seeding. The other method was no-till seeding the WSG into the cool season grass. We utilized the cows and grazing management to control the introduced cool season grass while establishing the native warm season grass.

Using herbicides to control the existing vegetation is a faster method to establish WSG, but it cannot be grazed in the year of establishment. Using cows instead of herbicides to control the existing vegetation provides requires the area to be grazed during the establishment. Using the grazing management takes longer to establish a viable stand of WSG but the stand improved each year of establishment and in the third year we had a good stand of WSG. This method also provides spring and fall grazing due to the cool season grass that is still available in the available forage, but does require a higher level of grazing management.

A producer will have to decide which establishment method will work best in his/her management system. Organic producers may find using the grazing animals to establish the WSG works well in their system. Records were kept of the cattle rotations for an eventual research paper expressing the total success of the effort.

Education efforts were split between on-farm demonstrations, and off-farm conferences. The transfer of knowledge was much greater by taking the information and experience gain with the on-farm work to conferences, meetings, workshops, etc. Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock now focuses their education efforts on projects held at other locations. We feel this is a major accomplishment in our educational efforts.

This education brought many benefits to the current and future producers of grazing livestock. First it exposed them to improved methods of management. Different styles of rotational grazing demonstrated showed a variety of ways to "do the right thing." Similarly, the many different styles of livestock watering systems demonstrated (pond limited access, solar pumped, siphon, rural water, etc.) allowed people to see directly what works (or does not work well) for us on site. By taking this information off-site to producer meetings, it gives them access to new ideas and viable alternates to consider in management decisions.

Of course, having our Grazing Intern work directly under our Herdsman was a very small but excellent example of hands-on education.

In total production, the three different management areas produced superior results that are outlined in great detail in our yearly published Annual Report.

The completion of the Grazing with Wildlife Compatibility study also outlined in great detail the work and documented scientific study of Dr. James Pease and his Iowa State University research team. We are very happy to be a small but important part of bringing that intellectual knowledge to the research and public policy world.

Economic Analysis

The publication "Maximizing Profitability on Highly Erodible Land in Iowa" uses the grazing data collected at the Adams County CRP Research and Demonstration Farm and compares six options for land currently in CRP.(CRP, stocker grazing, cow/calf grazing, corn/soybean-rotational corn, corn/soybean-rotational soybeans, alfalfa/hay) With high grain prices, going back to row-crops on this land can look like a good option. When the costs of erosion are also considered, however, the best options, even with no-till row crops, shift to keeping this land in grass.

Farmer Adoption

The goal of the project was to educate through research and demonstration the utility and sustainability of grassland. SIFLC worked directly with influential cattlemen, grazing organizations, and educational institutions to provide both on-site and off-site instruction. SIFLC is an organization affiliated with USDA and Iowa State University Extension; but not directly under control of any institution or governmental agency. This arrangement worked very well in offering the SIFLC Board Members (most of whom are working cattlemen) the freedom and latitude to pursue projects they felt were innovative and beneficial to the future of grassland production and conservation.

Through this project, SIFLC provided countless educational field day events and grazing schools designed to improve HEL land management and farm business decision making. The primary audience was current producers and landowners. Locally, the audience was in southern Iowa and northern Missouri. Women landowners, as well as small and new landowners, were the focus of the cooperative Annie's Project management school.

A great effort was taken to get the results of the work of this project out to the grassland producers who can benefit from the information. Through the cooperation of ISU Extension the information transferred was significant. Special efforts were made to interact and cooperate with the agricultural media in highlighting the results of this project, including the research results, field day activities, on-going study status, and news updates. During the three year grant period more than 6,000 producers and landowners were reached by our educational events and activities. We expect that number to grow as we continue our educational mission in the years to come. The CRP Research and Demonstration Project has become an important service to agriculture with its demonstrations on highly erodible land. It gives producers with highly erodible marginal land the opportunity to see alternative ways for profitable production from this land. Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee is committed to this endeavor.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The Adams County CRP Project Annual Report contains individual reports the following research studies:

1) Pasture Weaning Calves in a Rotational Grazing Demonstration with Beef Cows at the CRP Research and Demonstration Farm
2) Fall-Calving Beef-Cow Herd Grazing Demonstration at the CRP Research and Demonstration Farm
3) Commercial Rural Water Usage for Beef Cow Herds In Adams County
4) Grazing With Wildlife Compatibility Study (a PDF of this report is also attached0
5) Patch-Burn Grazing Research Study

The Adams County CRP Project Annual Report is available from Southern Iowa Forage & Livestock at 603 7th Street, Corning, IA 50841

The publication "CRP 22: Maximizing Profitability on Highly Erodible Land in Iowa" is available from Iowa State University publications. A PDF of the publication is attached.

Also produced in cooperation with NRCS and the Iowa Grassland Alliance was "Pasture Notes - A Field Guide for Grazing Systems". This pocket field guide and grazing record book is available from Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee at 603 7th Street, Corning, IA 50841.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Patch Burn Grazing Study - A patch-burn and grazing land management practice calls for approaches that mimic the historical interaction between fire and grazing to produce a more dynamic landscape. Here, discrete areas (or patches) are burned in contiguous, unfenced (no cross fences) grasslands. Recently burned patches have a higher probability of being grazed and a lower probability of burning until fuel can accumulate. Areas that have not been burned in several years have a higher probability of fire and a lower probability of being grazed. The result is a shifting mosaic of vegetation that mimics the historic condition of native grasslands. Benefits to grazing animals, wildlife, and the grassland itself are inherent to using this fenceless “rest-rotational” grazing system. Initially planned multi-year study, this project had to be concluded due to the sale of the Research Farm land.

Rural Water and Beef Cow Usage Study - Initially planned as a five year study this project had to be completed in year three due to the sale of the research farm land. The focus of the study was the feasibility and cost effectiveness of using commercial rural water in a beef cow grazing system.

Spray Smother Spray Demonstration

Tall fescue has become very prominent forage in many grazing systems throughout southern Iowa. Producers would often like to replace Tall fescue with more desirable forage. However the typical renovation process will result in losing forage production from the pasture for one or two years. A technique used quite successfully in Missouri is called spray-smother-spray. This multi-step process is implemented as follows:

1) Spray existing tall fescue with glyphosate in the spring
2) Plant a summer annual forage in the “burned down” pasture
3) Graze the annual forage
4) Spray glyphosate to kill remnant tall fescue
5) Seed a winter annual for fall and winter grazing
6) In the spring seed the new forage of choice

To demonstrate this technique to area producers the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee (SIFLC) selected an eight-acre area at the Adams County CRP Farm that was predominantly tall fescue. The Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee intended to include this demonstration area into the grazing system in 2009. However, since they no longer had access to the farm, it is not known how the area was managed.

Information Products

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.