Grain and Vegetable Production in a Rotationally-Grazed, Pasture-Dominant Ley System: Implications for Soil Health, Soil Microbiome, and Forage

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2024: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipient: Stone Barns Center
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Elijah Goodwin
Stone Barns Center


  • Agronomic: buckwheat, clovers, corn, grass (misc. perennial), mustard, potatoes, rye, sunflower, wheat
  • Vegetables: beans, garlic, sweet corn
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, sheep
  • Animal Products: eggs, fiber, fur, leather, meat


  • Animal Production: grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, pasture fertility, rangeland/pasture management
  • Crop Production: cover crops, cropping systems, other
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    Ley rotations have been shown to
    provide a diversity of ecosystem service benefits, including
    regulatory(such as climate and flood regulation), cultural (such
    as food security, farming communities, and recreation), and
    supportive (such as soil health, nutrient cycling, and
    biodiversity). However, the degree and types of services may vary
    depending on the  management of the ley rotation system.
    Additionally, some aspects, such as the impact of livestock
    grazing or the impacts of the ley system on the soil microbiome,
    require further study. 

    Our objective is to clarify the
    soil and forage impacts of a no-input ley system with a 5- to
    6-year pasture phase, incorporating rotational livestock grazing,
    and a 2- to 3-year mixed cereal and vegetable rotation. This type
    of pasture-dominant ley system with diverse cereal and vegetable
    rotations holds potential for increasing the full suite of
    ecosystem service benefits for small to midsize meat and dairy
    farmers in the Northeast.

    By incorporating laboratory tests
    of soil health, soil microbiology, and forage quality at all
    phases of the ley rotation, this study will investigate and
    document that this system produces not only the soil health
    benefits observed by other peer studies on various ley systems,
    but also forage benefits (or at least neutral forage impacts) for
    the adopting livestock farmer. Additionally this study will begin
    to fill the gaps in our understanding of diverse, grazed,
    multi-species leys integrated with both cereal and vegetable
    production, particularly the impacts on soil microbial

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our objective is to clarify the
    soil and forage impacts of a no-input ley system with a 5- to
    6-year pasture phase, incorporating livestock grazing, and a 2-
    to 3-year mixed grain and vegetable rotation. Specifically, we
    will determine if this type of system will impact soil carbon
    sequestration. We will also look for other soil health effects,
    particularly changes in aggregate stability, bulk density,
    nitrogen, phosphorus, and other macro-minerals. Additionally, we
    will study the impacts on the soil microbiome. Does the physical
    disturbance of the ley or the selection of crop species have an
    impact on the taxon diversity and functional biodiversity of the
    soil microbiome? 

    We further will test if these ley
    rotations can improve the nutrition of the resulting
    pasture-phase forage. We will test potential effects on energy
    content and crude protein, as well as various macro- and

    Our hope is that this type of
    system can be expanded to small livestock and dairy farmers in
    the Northeast, to provide benefits to the farmer in both economic
    diversification and soil and forage quality outcomes. But first,
    we must better quantify the effects this type of ley has on the
    ecology and productivity of our regional system. 

    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.