- Agronomic: corn
- Animal Products: meat
- Animal Production: grazing - rotational
- Crop Production: cover crops
While cover crops are good, they require an increase in number of times machines must enter the field (an extra planting each fall) and they often require chemical termination in the spring.
Pasture-cropping is a method that leaves the cover crops in place year-round, but intentionally over-grazes to stunt the growth instead of terminating it. On our farm, we have an opportunity to test this method against historic crop performance on a 4 acre field that had been in consistent agronomic use for over 2 decades up until it was devoted to pasture just 5 years ago. Since then, it’s established a dense forage mix of legumes and grasses. But we retain historic yield results for this field to compare.
We will intensely graze this field with a herd of 24 cattle at two intervals, each time forcing them to crop the plants lower to the ground than is desirable for replenishing pasture. First, immediately before planting. Then, again immediately before emergence.
If successful, this method will allow the corn to compete against the stunted forage mix until it canopies. After harvest, it will be immediately productive as forage. Yield loss is expected, but could be offset by other gains.
Previous Research Review
Most significant research has been conducted in the warmer climate of Australia, and with shorter-season grains like wheat. See: https://permaculturenews.org/2012/06/30/pasture-cropping-an-integrated-approach-to-grain-andpasture-production/
Our study will be the first done with the Midwest’s staple annual grain product: Corn.
- Discover if intense grazing is a viable method to stunt (in lieu of terminating) pasture before planting and germination.
- Measure the negative effects that the competition creates on grain.
- Determine if the benefits and savings can reasonably offset those yield losses.
Measuring Benefits and Impacts anticipated
Our main goal is to show that a grain operation can reduce their capital outlay (less chemical, fewer times entering the field to plant) and that, while yield may suffer, the economic loss from lower yields is actually offset by real economic value from those savings, plus the added value of forage. To show this, we must determine a market value for the forage tonnage, and measure the effective yield loss incurred to achieve that forage.
The positive impacts of a perennial crop on land are well established, ranging from soil health and reduced erosion to carbon sequester and drought resistance. This study, if the findings are positive, will make permaculture more viable on many more acres in the Midwest.
Contribution to Sustainable Agriculture
If we find a positive outcome, then we open the possibility for grain and grass-feeding operations to intermix. The forage grown could essentially become a “double crop” opportunity for land owners.