Introducing Legume Cover Crops into Large Scale Grain-Cattle Production Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2003: $14,521.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Southern
State: Oklahoma
Principal Investigator:
Steve Kraich
Oklahoma State University Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: wheat, hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, free-range
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures


    •Summer planting is not a desirable strategy for introducing clover cover crops in the High Plains region.
    •Cowpea is a promising forage crop that can be successfully planted late in spring to early summer in the High Plains if residue cover is limited and adequate amount of soil moisture is available.
    •Yellow clover is the most promising winter legume; however, further studies are needed to identify the best planting time.


    Texas County in the Oklahoma Panhandle is the largest agricultural producing area in the state and one of the nation’s agricultural leaders, with farm receipts exceeding $1.0 billion annually. The downside to this tremendous agriculture activity is that the predominant grain-cattle production systems are far from sustainable. Crop production relies heavily on external inputs and the county is by large a net importer of animal feed from neighboring states.
    Early in the summer, after wheat harvest, the soil is typically left fallow (unplanted) until the following spring when corn is planted. This fallow strategy, which is commonly used throughout the High Plains, prevents farmers from utilizing summer precipitation efficiently and reduces the opportunity to produce additional forage. In addition, the lack of biological activity and increased soil degradation associated with intense herbicide applications and tillage make the fallow period an undesirable management strategy for the Southern High Plains region.
    We are proposing the introduction of legume cover crops to help mitigate the negative impact of the fallow period after wheat harvest and to enhance the sustainability of grain-cattle operations. Cover crops have been rarely studied in the Oklahoma Panhandle; thus, we plan to evaluate four potentially adaptable legume species: sweet clover, berseem clover, crimson clover, and cowpea. Successful establishment of legume cover crops will allow farmers to extend their grazing season. Cattle normally graze on young wheat from December to March. Interseeding cover crop into wheat stubble immediately after harvest would make grazing possible during late summer and early fall. The four legumes were selected for their potential to perform well under high temperature conditions, their ability to produce large quantities of high quality biomass, livestock preference and low bloating potential, and their ability to tolerate drought conditions.

    Project objectives:

    Our main objective was to identify legume cover crops that can be successfully introduced and managed in the Oklahoma High Plains. Success was measured in terms of biomass quantity and quality, winter survival and expansion of the grazing period, agronomic viability, and soil quality improvement.

    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.