- Agronomic: corn, sorghum (milo), wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Vegetables: turnips
- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: feed/forage, animal protection and health, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
- Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, fallow, no-till, organic fertilizers, application rate management, conservation tillage
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management
- Pest Management: economic threshold
- Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
- Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, organic matter, soil quality/health
Nine soil samples were taken and analyzed following wheat harvest in July, 2014.
Cover crops were planted into wheat stubble on August 6, 2014. The following mixes were decided on after consultation with our local agronomist and also cover crop expert, Dale Strickler:
Plots for leaving and grazing: (pounds/acre)
- Oats (30 pounds)
- Spring Field Peas (20 pounds)
- Radish, (3 pounds)
- Turnips, (2 pounds)
- Sorghum, (1 pound)
The plot for haying had the same mix as above, minus turnips and radishes.
Forage samples were taken on October 13 to analyze tonnage. In the grazing and leaving plots the average was 18.15 tons/acre wet weight (including turnip and radish weight).
On October 14, 2014 K-State Research and Extension, River Valley District hosted a workshop/field day on cover crops and soil health. Approximately 50 attendees spent over 2 hours at the study site observing the stand and learning more about the potential benefits of cover crops. I spoke about the cover crop establishment costs and project details.
In conjunction with the field day, the plot for haying was swathed so attendees could view the amount of forage. The hay was raked and baled within 10 days, producing 38 bales. Average bale weight was 1,750 pounds. This puts tonnage at 1.59 tons/acre. A core from each bale was taken and samples were sent in for analysis at Ward Lab. Crude protein was 16% for a total forage value of 150. This is equivalent to medium grade alfalfa. At the time of the study, medium grade alfalfa was selling for approximately $90 per ton. Costs per ton were an estimated $73.40, for a net income of $16.60. Sensitivity analysis was performed to determine what price and quantity levels could decrease to and still break even as a standalone enterprise. The price or yield could drop by 19% before a negative net income would be realized.
The steers begun grazing on October 21, 2014, they were weighed prior to being put out to graze. The grazing paddock was cross fenced to create numerous grazing paddocks. Steers performed well with a 183.18 pounds of gain per animal over 86 days for an average daily gain of 2.13 pounds. Cover crop, supplemental feed, and labor costs averaged $123.98 per head for a cost of gain of $0.68 per pound. This cost was significantly lower than the cost of gain on other cattle raised by B&H Ranch in 2014-2015.
Corn was planted into the cover crop plot in the spring of 2015. On May 5, 2015 the field received 9 inches of rainfall in two hours with significant hail. Although significant gully erosion occurred in certain areas of the field, it was evident that the cover crop residual greatly reduced sheet and rill erosion. Despite significant setbacks with a wet spring, the corn yielded 135 bushels per acre. The field we own across the road that did not have cover crops yielded 137 bushels per acre. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the cover crops had any adverse yield impacts.
These results have been shared with all 105 Kansas county Conservation District offices. Presentations at the Kansas Farmers Union annual convention and Pottawatomie County Extension field day. Results have also been quoted at numerous other cover crop field days. An estimated 150 producers have attended direct presentations and at least 500 in attendance at events where this study was cited.
Cover crops can improve soil fertility and water quality while managing disease and pests as well as increasing biodiversity. Traditional no-till producers plant cover crops between rotations and mechanically or chemically terminate them prior to planting the next cash crop in the rotation. These producers are utilizing cover crops for the aforementioned benefits.
Producers with livestock are increasingly looking to cover crops as a way to further integrate their crop and livestock operations. These producers can potentially capture the benefits of cover crops while providing supplemental grazing sources to livestock and reducing residue management issues. This supplemental feed can come in the form of direct grazing or forage that is hayed and fed to livestock at a later date.
This project compared the economics of three after wheat cover cropping scenarios in Republic County Kansas: using cover crop mixes without harvesting, grazing cover crops, and haying cover crops.
Here are the objectives written in the grant application and their respective progress:
- Rate of gain of cattle grazing cover crops.
Steers performed well with a 183.18 pounds of gain per animal over 86 days for an average daily gain of 2.13 pounds. Cover crop, supplemental feed, and labor costs averaged $123.98 per head for a cost of gain of $0.68 per pound. This cost was significantly lower than the cost of gain on other cattle raised by B&H Ranch in 2014-2015.
- Quality and quantity of forage harvested.
Hay yielded 1.59 tons/acre, A core from each bale was taken and samples were sent in for analysis at Ward Lab. Crude protein was 16% for a total forage value of 150. This is equivalent to medium grade alfalfa. At the time of the study, medium grade alfalfa was selling for approximately $90 per ton.