Economics of Grazing and Haying Cover Crops in North Central Kansas

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $7,223.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Josh Roe
B&H Ranch

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • 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

    Proposal summary:



    This project will compare 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. The field utilized is approximately 61 acres and plots will be laid out under the supervision of Dr. Peter Tomlinson, Assistant Professor of Agronomy, Kansas State University, to ensure replicable results. Advice on specific cover crop varieties will be provided by Mr. Dale Strickler, salesman for Star Seeds and widely known cover crop expert.

    The three scenarios are outlined below:

    1) A cover crop cocktail consisting of legumes, brassicas, and forage components such as oats will be planted after wheat harvest in the summer of 2014 on approximately 20.3 acres. These crops will not be harvested. Data on previous crop yield, rainfall amounts, soil tests conducted prior to and after cover crops, and corn yield in 2015. The economic feasibility of cover crops without harvest will be evaluated using soil nutrient content value and yield variation compared to cover crop seed, establishment, and termination costs.

    2) A cover crop cocktail will be planted on approximately 20.3 acres after wheat harvest and 50 head of 400-500 pound steers will be turned out to graze. This field is adjacent to an existing feeding pen with adequate shelter, bunk space, and water supply and the steers will be turned out each morning after receiving corn gluten pellets and will be herded back to the pen each evening. A paddock rotational grazing system will be used. In addition to the data collected in scenario one, the economic feasibility of this scenario will be evaluated by recording weight gain, cost of supplemental feed, as well as labor, maintenance and veterinary costs (if applicable).

    3) A cover crop cocktail will be planted on approximately 20.3 acres after wheat harvest and will be swathed and baled at the optimal time to balance tonnage and protein content. In addition to the data collected from scenario one, the economic feasibility of this scenario will be evaluated by determining the value of the forage given protein content and local market prices while considering all costs to haying.

    Results of these scenarios will be compared and we will determine if one scenario is significantly more profitable than the others. In addition to economic results, we will track gains in nutrient levels, forage value and other soil properties pre and post cover crop. The outcomes will be utilized in making future management decisions regarding the use of cover crops on approximately 1,000 acres on our operation. If results prove promising we hope that this will increase cover crop utilization in the area. Continuous no-till is widely adopted in this area and growing each year, approximately 50% adoption rate as of now, but cover crop utilization is very low, less than 1%. Data about cover crop performance in this area of Kansas is needed.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Specific outputs to be evaluated include (but are not limited to):

    1) Improvements to soil quality.

    2) Rate of gain of cattle grazing cover crops.

    3) Quality and quantity of forage harvested.

    Each of these outputs will be evaluated on an ongoing basis throughout the life of the project.

     The evaluation of outcomes will focus on four key aspects:

    1) Which scenario is more profitable.

    2) Which scenario is best for long-term sustainability and soil health.

    3) How these practices are perceived in the agricultural community.

    4) Measuring the impacts of information/education (I&E) and technical assistance (TA) activities on the target audiences. These impacts would include behavior changes and other actions taken by recipients as a result of their participation in the I&E or TA program/project. Activities to evaluate the outcomes or impacts from I&E and TA projects will utilize a variety of tools and methods, including (but not limited to):
    * Surveys of program/project participants (i.e. participant feedback).

    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.