Cover Crops - Grazing Alternatives Research Project

Final Report for YENC08-003

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2008: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Manager:
Steve Sutera
Bon Homme 4-H Clubs & Bon Homme FFA Chapter
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Project Information




I was not providing any direct forms of education to youth on sustainable agriculture prior to this grant project. I did do some mass media efforts (newspaper items and radio items) where a limited number of youth may have received some information on cover crops and sustainable agriculture. I conducted a couple workshops for 4-H members to help them collect, identify, and mount various native and tame grasses that are found in CRP and grasslands in the area. These collections were part of their 4-H exhibits of grasses on the SD prairie.


Our goal was to help youth get a better understanding and appreciation for sustainable agriculture production practices that local farmers can apply to their operations. The primary goal is to have youth become aware of sustainable agriculture with emphasis on cover crops for grazing alternatives.

Through the classroom and hands-on field test plot experiences, the students would better understand the benefits of cover crops, how to grow cover crops, and how to evaluate their usefulness in our environment as well as for grazing alternatives.

The concept of cover crops is fairly new to southeast South Dakota. By providing our youth with a positive educational hands-on experience, they could assist us in promoting cover crops as a part of the sustainable agriculture efforts in our area.

This project would also provide an opportunity for youth to take on leadership and responsibility roles including harvest coordination, publicity/promotion, photographer, and program development. The work they accomplished could be reported in their FFA or 4-H project work.

The Dean of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at South Dakota State University encourages Extension Educators to get youth involved in our research projects. I felt this was an excellent opportunity (it was my personal goal) to involve, educate, and empower local youth to assist with this sustainable agriculture project.


Upon approval of the grant for our "cover crops for alternative grazing research project," I met with the Vo-Ag Instructor and several students. We set up our overall calendar of project activities.

The FFA students lined up a farmers that was willing to cooperate with us on this project. The farmer was producing winter wheat in a field that had easy access. The field was located along a major highway - so it was easy to provide directions for the public to observe our test plot. The plot was about 1.5 acres in size. The farmer baled the straw off the plot area so that we would not have an issue with poor seed emergence due to heavy crop residue.

The plot was planted on July 28th A technician from the SDSU Plant Science Department came down with the equipment to plant the plot. With assistance from the FFA Chapter, we staked out the plot, planted 10 different crops (12 repetitions throughout), and put signs and markers up.
Moisture was plentiful. It was cooler than normal- so some of the crops did not grow as quickly and abundantly as we had planned. The stand of triticale was poor to average. We attributed it to poor seed (another plot had the same source and same issue with the stand).

The first of three harvests was done on October 8. Cuttings were taken in four sites for each crop. The FFA students and 4-H members labeled the harvest bags and they did all the harvesting (40 individual plots). The samples were taken back to SDSU to be weighed, dried, and analyzed for feed quality. We had already had a major freeze by that time, so it was interesting to note frost affects on the various crops in the plot.

A Field Day was also held at the test plot that day. The public was invited to come out and see the various crops in the plot. The Vo-Ag Instructor, the SDSU Field Technician, and I were available to answer questions. The event was very informal (people could come and go as they wanted). The FFA Chapter provided refreshments. It was a very cool - damp day. We did not have many people in attendance that afternoon.

The second harvest was completed on October 29. The Vo-Ag Instructor and I coordinated the harvest that was done completely by the FFA students and 4-H members. As the harvest was being done the students had lots of questions and made several observations on which crops were still actively growing and which were killed by frost. They assessed and made their predictions of which crops would provide the most feed for cattle that would graze that late in the season. The 40 samples were collected and air dried at my office. I waited until we completed the third harvest before I delivered them to SDSU.

The classroom instruction was done in early November. This was the most interesting part of the project. T provided 2.5 hours of classroom instruction for 24 students that week. I put together a PowerPoint presentation that had information on sustainable agriculture with emphasis on the many benefits of cover crops. Each day I began with a quick review of the benefits of cover crops. I was impressed with how well the students understood the concept of cover crops and how they could be incorporated into a sustainable agriculture production system. The last part of the classroom instruction was to share the experiences we were having with the cover crops for alternative grazing test plot with everyone else. The students and I had been taking pictures of all aspects (planting, harvesting, etc.) of the plot to this point. Several of the students and 4-H members that were assisting with the plot told the other students what they did and what they observed. They even noted that the radishes and turnips were "pretty good tasting!"

I prepared several handouts on cover crops for distribution at the field day and in the classroom. I also provided some general information and thoughts from the plot that several of my co-works conducted the previous year.

The final harvest was done on November 24. In the cold - we harvested the last 40 plots. The samples were collected, air dried, and delivered to SDSU the following week. The plot sign, flags/markers, and crop identification signs were all taken down once the last harvest was completed.

The samples have all been sent to SDSU Station Biochemistry for feed analysis. The final compilation of all the results and data will be shared with the students and general public once it is available. The data will include total pounds of dry matter produced per acre, crude protein, ADF, and NDF. The information and data from this research project will be used to help producers make good decisions when they select the cover crops and mixes that will benefit them primarily for grazing alternatives.


Extension Advisory Board - Assisted with initial programming and helped determine a need for cover crop research and information in this area.

SDSU Dean of Agriculture & Biological Sciences - Encouraged the need to involve local youth in local agriculture research projects and programming.

Bon Homme School Vo-Ag Instructor - Cooperated, promoted, and assisted with all aspects of this project including FFA student involvement, site location, planting, harvesting, classroom instruction, and evaluation.

Local Farmer - Allowed us to set up the test plot on land that he operates. He harvested the winter wheat crop and baled off the straw. He maintained the area around the plot (controlled weeds, etc).
Bon Homme FFA Chapter/Students & 4-H Members - Provided a majority of the labor in setting up and flagging the plot, planting, putting up the signs, photography (taking pictures) and harvesting the plot three times.

NRCS - provided materials and information used in the presentations and classroom instruction.
SDSU Plant Science Technician and Specialist/Researcher - Helped with overall coordination and leadership of the "research" portion of the project. They made arrangements for the equipment, seed, and final forage analysis. They showed us the proper harvest procedure.

Bon Homme County Extension Educator - I provided overall leadership for the program. I coordinated, scheduled, and conducted the test plot research project as well as did the classroom presentations/instruction.


There were two basic parts to this grant project: 1) the cover crops - alternative grazing research project and 2) the education of youth on sustainable agriculture with an emphasis on cover crops.

The "research" project was successful in terms of generating sound useful data. The information generated will be applicable for farmers/producers in southeast South Dakota.

We had great cooperation from the land operator. The location of the plot was excellent. He prepared and maintained the site to allow us to have a successful research project.

The teamwork and cooperation from the FFA students and 4-H members was outstanding. The youth completed every task and activity. They enjoyed the project. They asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about the various cover crops that we had in the plot. Each time we harvested - r asked the students to give me their opinion of which cover crops were the most productive and which would livestock most likely graze late in the season. I could tell by their observations and classroom instruction that they were able to determine which crops and mixes might be most suitable for grazing alternatives.

This research project gave the FFA students and 4-H members public recognition for getting involved in a project that would provide useful information to producers in this part of the state.

I couldn't have asked for better cooperation from the students on this project. They provided assistance with setting up the plot, planting, harvesting, and promoting (signs and pictures) the research plot/project. They had a good time while assisting with this project. They really liked sampling the radishes and turnips. They found it interesting that cattle would be able to graze the roots of some of these crops as well as the vegetative growth.

We were successful in conducting a research project that will provide data for an ongoing SDSU study. The data from our research project will be combined with data from previous research
The classroom instruction was the second part of this grant. I really enjoyed this part of the project.

I taught the students that were in the plant and animal science classes. My focus was on the overall benefits of cover crops and how they can be incorporated into a crop rotation system to achieve sustainability of our agriculture resources. They caught on to the concept much quicker than I expected.

At the beginning of each section, I had a review of the previous class/discussion. I was impressed with how well the students were able to provide information and how well they really understood sustainable agriculture. The Vo-Ag Instructor and I would quiz the students throughout the presentation. We provided a quiz/test at the end of the presentations. The scores were very good (above 80%), which means they were able to understand and comprehend the material.

I know one of the students personally through 4-H. He is a student with a very short attention span (and sometimes "picked on" by the other students). He was involved in the research part of this project as well as in the classroom. Whenever I asked questions and the students had to think about their response - this student was able to answer most often because he really did pay attention when he was out helping in the test plot. He made the connection between what we were doing in the plot and what I was trying to help them comprehend in the classroom. He surprised me. He surprised his instructor and the other students too!

The classroom instruction focused primarily on the benefits of cover crops (not just for grazing alternatives). Seed price varies greatly from one cover crop to another. The students were able to see that in most cases the cover crop added profitability to the operation, but the big benefit of the cover crops was in sustainability and overall improvement of our soils and environment. I was truly impressed with their comprehension of how cover crops help recycle nutrients, increase organic matter, increase water infiltration, reduce erosion, help reduce soil compaction and many others benefits.

I had 100% attendance when I did the classroom programs. The students were eager to learn and willing to contribute to our discussions. They have a better understanding of cover crops and how we can improve our land resources by incorporating cover crops into our rotation systems.


Organization and communication with everyone involved was the reason our project was successful. Not having worked with older teenagers as often as I work with younger children, I found that I didn't need to supervise as closely as I did. Once I showed them or told them what to do - they went and did it. That was nice!

I also learned that doing a hands-on project such as the research plot was really a great way for them to connect and understand the whole concept of how cover crops can help us sustain and improve our environment and our land as a resource. I should have asked the students that helped with the plot to share more of their experiences and observations. I caught on to it as I was doing the classroom presentations.

Working with the local FFA Chapter was and is proving to be a great relationship. They are looking for more projects to get more "community" minded and involved. Their Chapter is looking for ideas for a community service project that would benefit both FFA and 4-H. We are making plans to conduct a Farm Safety Camp for youth 8-11 years old next spring. The FFA students would help with presentations, group leaders, camp set-up, etc. We are also looking into the possibility of FFA exhibits or a booth during our annual 4-H Achievement Days next summer.

This project has opened doors and communication between the Extension Service and the local FFA Chapter and ag students. I had hoped this would happen, but did not anticipate it would happen this quickly. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call - "I've got an idea - might you be interested in this project."

I expected us to accomplish our project - but didn't think it would be as easy as it was. It was a lot of fun working with a different audience. The youth are so willing to learn when given the chance. The Vo-Ag Instructor and I both agree that the students learned from this project and that we will look for other similar opportunities.

Changes - I think that it would be fun to provide some of this information and learning to a younger audience. The Extension Educators in our Field Education Unit conduct a program called AgVenture Day. It is for 2nd - 5th grade students. We will discuss how we might include
cover crops in that program effort.

If I were to do this project again, I would probably try to do it on a larger basis and actually have cattle graze the cover crops. It would be neat to observe their grazing selections to see what the cattle really would prefer to eat.

The important thing is to communicate with the youth. I actually visited with the FFA Chapter (at a club meeting) and explained the proposed project. They gave me some good ideas. I believe that was the key to success of this project.


We held a Field Day at our cover crop research plot. It was on the day we were doing our first harvest (October 8). The weather did not cooperate (it was cold and damp). We did not have as many folks attend as we had hoped. Ten farmers and/or cattle producers attended. It was very informal. We explained our project and showed how our cover crops had progressed to that point. We had good discussion.

The information obtained from this project will be shared with producers/farmers that attend our Annual Crop Clinic programs, Crop Improvement meeting/programs, cattlemen's meeting/programs, and displays at several Winter Farm Shows. We also reported on this grant research and education project to the policy and decision makers that attended our local Community Leader Meeting on November 19, in Armour, SD. There were 13 legislators, county commissioners, and Extension board members present.

The research project information will be beneficial for producers who are looking to provide additional grazing to cattle through cover crops. The best rotation will be to plant the cover crops following a small grain (winter or spring) crop so that there is enough vegetative growth for grazing in fall. We are promoting all the benefits of cover crops in the programs that we conduct through the Extension Service.

We are just starting. The incorporation of cover crops into our farming practices is a concept that will take time to implement. We will continue to provide information on cover crops and sustainability whenever possible.

Pictures and supporting materials are attached.


First - I want to thank the North Central Region SARE program for providing this youth educator grant opportunity. It is a great way to help educate and promote sustainable agriculture practices to youth.

I really do not have any suggestions or recommendations. The grant proposal and reporting processes are very clear. It's simply a matter of taking time to come up with a proposal, writing it up, conducting the program, and then reporting. IT’S WORTH IT!! Thanks again.

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.