Economics of Grazing and Haying Cover Crops in North Central Kansas
Timeline of progress thus far:
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.
The steers began 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 are performing well. When they are removed weights will be taken to determine average daily gain.
-Determine average daily gain on steers.
-Use relative feed value test results of bales and consult hay experts regarding the value of the forage.
-Use all data collected to perform full economic analysis on the profitability of each system: leaving, grazing, and haying.
-Share results at a producer meeting this winter solely for this project.
-MANY extension, NRCS, and Kansas Department of Conservation employees are interested in these results, so I anticipate getting asked to speak at numerous field days and workshops in addition to the specialized field day this winter for local producers.
-Take soil samples prior to planting corn in the Spring of 2015.
-Record corn yields to compare with adjoining fields that do not have cover crops between wheat and corn.
-Write and submit final report.
Here are the objectives written in the grant application and their respective progress:
- Improvements to soil quality.
Soil samples taken prior to cover crop planting, post tests will also be taken.
- Rate of gain of cattle grazing cover crops.
Rate of gain will be recorded once cattle are done grazing.
- Quality and quantity of forage harvested.
Hay yielded 1.59 tons/acre, quality tests were being analyzed at the writing of this report by Ward Laboratories, Kearney, NE.
Each of these outputs will be evaluated on an ongoing basis throughout the life of the project.
We have accomplished everything that I set out to accomplish thus far in the study regarding the management aspect. An additional accomplishment that I met that was unexpected was the “extra” field day that took place in October, 2014. Also, the potential to reach a far bigger audience through additional presentations beyond what was estimated in the grant application is very high.
While I can’t take credit for this aspect at all, the weather was VERY favorable to cover crop growth this summer, the plots received nearly 6 inches of rainfall within 3 weeks of planting. Hardly any of the above outputs and summary would have been possible without this.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
While it is too early to fully evaluate outcomes of this project, it is worth noting that this project has reached a diverse audience. My overall objective in this project was to determine the economic feasibility of these scenarios on my farm. While my results might not perfectly apply to others given numerous factors, it is my hope that producers will see the tools I employ in not only cover crop planting, “harvesting”, management, etc. but also tools I used (spreadsheets and presentations) to determine profitability and utilize the techniques for their own farm.
We have already started planning our cover crop mixes to plant for next growing season, so the outcome on B&H Ranch thus far is that these crops are a useful tool to sustainably utilize our land and cattle resources.
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506
Office Phone: 7855323198
8606 Eagles Landing Drive
Manhattan, KS 66502
Office Phone: 7854100958