The Adams County CRP Research and Demonstration Project

Final Report for LNC96-097

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $52,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Federal Funds: $88,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $80,000.00
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Douglas Brown
Okey Vernon First National Bank
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Project Information


The objective of the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee (SIFLC) which was established in 1989 as a cooperative effort between area farmers, local business people, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Iowa State University Extension, Rural Economic and Community Development (RECD), and Farm Services Agency (FSA) is to demonstrate an economically feasible and environmentally sound alternative to row crop production on highly erodible marginal land regardless of whether the current land use is CRP, cropland, or pasture.

We are demonstrating and implementing grazing systems and forage production on highly erodible marginal land as an alternative to row crop production. Education of landowners and operators, business people, students, and government agency personnel are key to this project.

SIFLC demonstrates management intensive grazing using beef cattle as an alternative to row crop production. The project consists of a farm in southwest Iowa currently enrolled in CRP made of class IV land with a CSR average of 34. Three different grazing systems established on the farm utilize contour lane systems to move cattle and reduce erosion in the lanes, high powered “New Zealand” style electric fence and several types of watering systems. The fence is powered demonstrating the use of solar power and REC Hi-Line. Four different water systems are demonstrated on the farm, gravity flow, electric pumps using solar and REC Hi-Line, and cattle powered “nose” pumps. This farm demonstrates concepts that producers can use to implement intensive grazing systems on their land.

ISU furnishes cow/calf pairs and “stocker steers” for the grazing systems. These cattle are utilized to demonstrate economic profitability verses row crop production.

Forage interseedings and their benefits have been of special interest to farmers. We have been able to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits gained. Producers can put this information to work through the use of our Great Plains No-Till Drill that is made available in Southern Iowa to rent for pasture interseeding and establishment.

The transfer of information created by this project is disseminated to our target audience through the utilization of field days, county level pasture management meetings, open houses, grazing seminars, farm tours, speaking engagements, annual reports, articles in newspapers, trade magazines, and scientific journals. Our Two-Day Grazing Clinic held in June of each year is important because it is the only seminar of its kind held in Iowa. Participants attend gaining knowledge from the classroom as well as seeing and participating with a “hands on” approach at the demonstration farm.


SIFLC’s mission statement is to demonstrate an economically feasible and environmentally sound alternative to row crop production on highly erodible marginal land. As the project has evolved SIFLC has encouraged an alternative land use to intensive row crop production on highly erodible marginal land regardless of whether the current land use is CRP or cropland.

The project demonstrates management intensive grazing using beef cattle as an alternative to row crop production on a farm currently enrolled in CRP with predominantly glacial till and paleosol soils on 9-14% slopes (class IV land). Three different grazing systems are established on the farm. These systems utilize a contour lane system to move cattle and reduce erosion in the lanes, high powered “New Zealand” style electric fence, and several types of watering systems. This farm demonstrates concepts that producers can use to implement intensive grazing systems on their land.

Each project year we compile data and summarize our findings in an annual report. To date we have a summary of our “stocker” steer grazing and cow-calf project. The steers gained 1.86 lb. per day for a gain of 232.75 lbs. per acre. The four paddock treatment calf group gained 2.18 lbs. per day for a gain of 183.62 lbs. per acre. The thirteen paddock treatment calf group gained 2.23 lbs. per day for a gain of 195.87 lbs. per acre. The combined calf group gained an average of 2.21 lbs. per day. This along with other data allows us to prepare a table for income and expenses for cropping alternatives on HEL in Adams County. This funnels down the hard data learned from our work.

The results of our project are also measured by the amount of contact we have with our target audience. We personally involved 1,350 citizens in a process of discovery and learning that may allow them to make economic and environmental decisions that will benefit them which in turn will achieve a more sustainable agriculture.

Project Objectives:

1. Improve the understanding of grazing systems to assist the landowner in seeing the economic potential and environmental benefits when making land use decisions.

2. Demonstrate the use of good management practices on pastureland that will reduce soil loss, reduce nutrient loss, and pesticide loss.

3. Educate our target audience on the economic and environmental benefits of rotational grazing systems verses row crop production on highly erodible marginal land.

4. Maximize profitability


Materials and methods:

The demonstrations conducted with this proposal were completed on the Adams County CRP Farm. This 480 acre farm is located near Corning on land enrolled in the CRP Program in 1987. Approximately 200 acres are currently being used as part of the demonstration project. Soils on the farm are predominantly glacial till and paleosol derived. The land is typically class IV with slopes 9-14%. The farm is very typical of highly erodible marginal land enrolled in CRP or used as pasture in Southern Iowa.

1/3 of the farmland in this area consists of land similar to the soils found on this farm and previously described. Expected corn yields on this type of land is 75 bushels per acre. This land is quite often found adjacent to more productive ridges or small creek bottoms. Producers typically use inputs at a level for expected yields of at least 120 bushels per acre. This results in an economic loss on these soils as well as the potential for chemical and nutrient runoff. This demonstration has used this type of soil in a rotational grazing system. Three different grazing systems are included in the project. Beef cows are used in a four and thirteen paddock system. “Stocker steers” are used in an eighteen paddock system. All livestock are weighed several times during the grazing season. Typically hay is baled from some of the systems. Beef produced through cattle gains and hay production are used to determine an annual “yield” from these systems. Current livestock prices are used to determine an economic return from each system. This is compared to current grain prices and the estimated yields for corn and soybeans from the soils in the grazing systems.

This information is provided to producers through SIFLC’s annual report, meetings, field days and other technology transfer opportunities. Producers can use the soil survey appropriate to their land to evaluate their farm and identify areas of soils with low productivity potential.

Lanes used for movement of cattle on a regular basis are established on the contour. These lanes have been established for the past six years and have controlled erosion. Herbicides have not been used to control weeds. Weed pressure has been reduced by developing a dense forage that reduces weed pressure and the “musk thistles” in the pastures are cut by hand. An interseeding program is being implemented to incorporate legumes into the forage. This results in a more productive forage and will reduce the need for commercial nitrogen. Soil tests are taken annually and lime and fertilizer are applied according to test.

Information education is a very important component of the project. Information is provided at meetings sponsored by SIFLC as well as meetings where we are included as part of the program. Tours of the project are provided to visiting cattlemen, people interested in improving the environment, agency personnel and others. SIFLC sponsors an annual Field Day and Two-Day Grazing Clinic. The grazing clinic is designed for producers and personnel assisting producers to implement planned grazing systems . The grazing clinic is the only one of its kind in Iowa.

As previously outlined beef cows and stocker steers are used in the three grazing systems. Production records are kept of all livestock and current market prices are used for the livestock. Typically hay is produced in this system and is also given a dollar value. Costs of the system have also been kept that cover fence systems, water systems, fertility, and forage improvement practices. Producers can use this information and compare it to their own situation. The technology demonstrated on this farm can be transferred to producers farms because it is all applicable to this area.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1: There are two grazing systems using beef cows. A four paddock system with a stocking rate of 1.72 acres per cow/calf pair. The thirteen paddock system has a stocking rate of 1.65 acres per cow calf pair. Stocker steers are used on an eighteen paddock system. Predominant soils found in these grazing systems are Class IV glacial till and paleosol derived on 9-14% slope. Average predicted corn yield on these soils are 75 bushels per acre. It is commonly estimated that a 100 bushel per acre corn yield is necessary to break-even with expenses.

In addition there is a high potential for loss of soil, pesticides and nutrients if this type of land is used for row crop production. This non-sustainable system results in a system that is not environmentally safe or economically sound.

To make an economic evaluation of the grazing systems cattle are weighted on a regular basis to determine how many pounds of beef are produced from the grazing systems. Some hay is also produced from the system annually. The amount of hay produced varies with the weather conditions during the growing season. Hay is also given a value which shows production from the system. These production values are compared to estimated yields from corn and soybeans and the corresponding grain prices. Producers can use soil survey maps of there farm and make grain yield predictions and compare that to potential yields in a rotational grazing system. This will show them the economic potential from the area and the reduced soil, pesticide and nutrient loss from a grazing system will demonstrate the environmental benefits.

Objective 2: A forage stand evaluation shows a forage that is predominantly grass based. Soil tests have been completed on the grazing systems each year and lime and fertilizer has been applied according to test. Because the forage is typically quite dense in each paddock there is minimal runoff from the paddocks. This makes soil and nutrient losses minimal. SIFLC is incorporating an interseeding program that will increase the legume segment in the forage. Once legumes comprise 35% of the forage they will supply all of the nitrogen needs. No pesticides are used as musk thistle is the predominant weed and it is controlled by being manually cut by the herdsman. This is completed at a cost much less than if herbicides were used. Weed control costs in 1996 were $3.68 per acre and in 1997 $2.09 per acre. This compares to typical weed control costs of $13.00 per acre when using a herbicide. By not using herbicides it is possible to maintain legumes in the forage.

Lanes that are used by the livestock on a daily basis are placed on the contour. This has prevented gully erosion from starting due to cow paths going up and down hill. In addition water is being moved to the cattle as much as possible. It has been determined this improves forage utilization, better manure distribution, and reduces the need for lanes.

Objective 3: Transferring information from the demonstration project to producers and personnel that will assist producers in implementing a grazing system is a very important part of the project. Annual field days are held for people to visit the farm and see the fence, water systems, and forage improvement activities. An annual report is completed and distributed to a large mailing list of producers and interested people. The report outlines the years activities and gives results of demonstration projects.

1998 marked the sixth year of the Two-Day Grazing Clinic, the only one of its kind in Iowa. This grazing clinic, with producers and people assisting producers in implementing grazing systems as the target audience, is an opportunity for hands-on training.

This proposal provided funds for SIFLC to sponsor some winter workshops in four different counties over a two year period. Very successful workshops were held in Ringgold and Taylor Counties in 1997. Funds have been secured from another source to expand the workshops to three other counties in 1998. These workshops are targeted to the producer that is just beginning or considering a change to rotational grazing.

People representing the project have been on the agenda of numerous meeting to discuss project activities. These meetings have been county, regional, and statewide in nature.

Objective 4: Producers implement this objective when they implement the technology demonstrated on the farm in their own operation. This objective is more difficult to measure but there is a large increase in interest in rotational grazing systems. When this project was initiated in 1991 there weren’t any local distributors of New Zealand style electric fence, now there are two in the Corning community. More producers are making divisions in their pastures.

EQIP, the new federal cost share program, offered the first opportunity for producers in southern Iowa to implement grazing systems. The demand for these funds was go great only 1/3 of the applicants for grazing systems were approved for funding.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

There have been numerous articles in area newspapers concerning activities of the project. In addition area radio stations have featured information generated from the project’s demonstrations. In addition the SIFLC prepares an annual report that includes an overview of the project activities and results of demonstrations conducted at the farm. The following is a partial list of news coverage included in area publications:

Creston News Advertiser
“CRP Project Shows Grazing Benefits”

Adams County Free Press
“CRP Farm Conference Tour”
“Grazing Clinic Planned”
“CRP Field Day is Today”
“Good Crowd At CRP Field Day”
“Adams Co CRP Research and Demonstration Project-Open House”

1997 Adams County CRP Project Annual Report
“Forage Evaluation in the North Grazing System Adams County CRP Farm”
“Rotational Grazing Demonstrations With Beef Cows on Highly Erodible Land at the Adams County CRP Project.”
“Intensive Rotational Grazing of Steers on Highly Erodible Land at the Adams County CRP Project”

Members of the committee have made presentations at meetings in and out of Iowa. Members have spoken on the need to look at alternatives to row crop production on highly erodible marginal land, results from project demonstrations, interseeding to improve forages and a variety of other topics. SIFLC has also been a leader in initiating educational events as witnessed by the Two-Day Grazing Clinics and the county level winter workshops initiated in 1997. The following is a review of some of the events conducted by SIFLC as a part of the Adams County CRP Project or events SIFLC was invited to be a part of and present information regarding the project:

1. Field Days
The SIFLC holds annual field days. During these field days participants are shown the progress of the livestock, technologies used in the grazing systems, forage management, and some review of the economics of the systems. In 1996 120 people attended and in 1997 there were 95 in attendance. Attendance in 1998 was 70.

2. Open Houses
We held an open house in September 1997. SIFLC completed an interseeding demonstration in 1996 where legumes were interseeded into an existing brome sod. Because of the requirements to interseed legumes into much of the CRP acres successfully rebid in the spring of 1997 and the need to improve the forage if expiring CRP is used for pastureland this open house was very timely and popular. 85 people attended this twilight tour.

3. Presentations at County Cattlemen Meetings
Agency personnel associated with the project have made presentations to area county cattlemen meetings. These presentations have been held at winter meetings and at pasture walks. These events have occurred in Clarke, Crawford, and Shelby Counties. A total of 152 people attended these meetings.

4. Grazing Clinics
In 1992 the SIFLC initiated a two-day grazing seminar. These are the only seminars of their kind in Iowa. They have been well attended. We held our 1998 seminar in July.

5. Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Annual Convention
SIFLC has had a booth and made information and personnel available to the public each year at this convention and we plan to attend again in December of 1998.

6. Farm Tours
Each year individuals and groups request a tour of the farm to see the technology demonstrated and how the system is designed. We have provided tours to individual and groups of producers, Vocational Agriculture Departments, Extension personnel (both inside Iowa and out of state).

7. Winter Workshop Meetings
We hosted two winter workshop meetings in 1997, one in Ringgold County and one in Taylor County. Three workshops were attended in 1998 in three counties.

8. Table Top Display
We have developed a table top display using a “downing board”. We plan to use this at the Adams County Fair and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Annual Convention.

9. Presentations were made at the Corning High School reaching 65 students.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Farmer Adoption

We are in the process of gathering data and visiting with producers who have developed productive grazing systems using ideas generated from out research. New fence and water system technologies make the separation of marginal land from more productive more feasible. Keeping these marginal soils in pasture reduces the soil loss which will improve water quality. Rotational grazing economically interests producers because they can have more pound gain per head of cattle grazed.

We are aware of twenty-four producers who have adopted the grazing system technology on their farms. These producers have divided their land into three or more paddocks. The majority have been divided into five or more. They have experienced an increase of cattle gain per acre as well as requiring less herbicide to control weeds.

One producer, Mike Hagerman, who has been farming on 120 acres had this to say… “It was new to me (the grazing clinic), and I was very receptive and interested in every procedure, especially interseeding, water, and fencing techniques. I went back home and set up a rotational grazing system on 50 acres of grass. Started out putting primitive wire and dividing the pasture into 8-9 different grazing areas and coming back every 30 days using grass management. I moved the electric fence with the cattle and was able to graze a 40 cow herd on this 50 acres of grass. It was bluegrass, brome, white clover, and birdsfoot trefoil. At the end of summer, I grazed some on alfalfa and then did some strip grazing on corn stalks which was brought out at the grazing clinic. The results on corn stalks were unbelievable.

Pete Marshall is a young purebred cattle producer who started his rotational grazing system program several years ago. He has attended the Adams County CRP Project Field Day and said he has gotten some good ideas for rotating pastures, grow back periods, and fencing systems. He has seven rotation pastures, mostly 10 to 15 acres in size and will rotate every 3 to 5 days; and every pasture rests 30 days. His stocking rate is about 1 to 1/1/2 acres per cow/calf pair. The biggest advantage Pete said is he gets the same rate of gain on fewer acres.

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.