Integrated Crop and Livestock Systems: Dryland Crop Rotations to Improve Economic and Ecological Sustainability in the Central High Plains

2008 Annual Report for SW05-117

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $212,928.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Steve Paisley
University of Wyoming

Integrated Crop and Livestock Systems: Dryland Crop Rotations to Improve Economic and Ecological Sustainability in the Central High Plains


Dryland Cropping Systems in the Central High Plains

Project SW05-117 focuses on developing additional dryland cropping options for producers in southeastern Wyoming, northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska to improve economic sustainability while reducing erosion and improving soil quality. This would not only enhance profitability for landowners and producers but also increase viability of rural, agricultural-based communities. This 3-year project looks at integrating alternative forages such as winter pea, spring pea, and medic as alternative cropping system rotations compared to the traditional dryland rotations of wheat/fallow. Soil quality, production and economic analysis will be used to evaluate and compare the sustainability of these practices vs. conventional farming.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Dryland Cropping System Objectives:

The objectives of this project are to establish integrated dryland cash-crop/forage/livestock systems and evaluate the impacts on soil quality and profitability. This project represents the initial three years of a multi-year study evaluating dryland cropping system opportunities in Southeastern Wyoming.

Sub-objectives are: 1. Establish and evaluate the use of both annual and regenerative legumes (peas & medic) in an integrated crop, forage and livestock system 2. Measure and compare soil quality for the alternative crop, forage and livestock systems vs. traditional wheat-fallow and perennial pasture. 3. Evaluate profitability of each of the proposed alternative crop, forage and livestock systems. 4. Compare long-term sustainability of permanent pastures vs. sustainable cropping and livestock systems on existing wheat-fallow dryland fields.


A. Environmental Conditions
Unseasonably low precipitation has continued to plague this project for the last 3 years. Table 1 provides a summary of actual precipitation received on the station (study site). This has resulted in two failed attempts at establishing the desired dryland crops at the test site, despite using proper agronomic practices. Annual precipitation patterns have continued to be low for 2006 and 2007, with the proposed site location receiving 7.02 and 8.3 inches, respectively, over the last 2 years, vs. the 30 year average precipitation of 13.8. Last year (Year 3) we received slightly more overall precipitation (11.1), but it came later in the summer, after spring seeding attempts failed.

B. Dr. James Krall, an important investigator associated with this study, suffered chest pains in early June 2008, which led to the surgical placement of a stint to improve blood flow. After surgery and a short recovery period, Dr. Krall suffered an additional attack, which led to a quintuple bypass surgery in early fall. Additional complications with the surgery and healing process resulted in an additional surgery on January 29th, 2009. Jim is currently working mornings only at the office, and is slowly building back his health.

Jim has essentially been on medical leave for the past 6.5 months.

Accomplishments include:
1. University of Wyoming bred heifers grazed Austrian winter pea pastures for 3 weeks in June. All pea replicate pastures were fenced together to provide enough forage for the time period, and although weight gain data was recorded, heifers were only able to maintain weight. Grazing dates and weights were recorded.

2. The dryland wheat crop was drilled with a John Deere 1560 No-till drill on September 10th through September 12th 2007 @ 60#’s per acre, using the variety Goodstreak. Wheat paddocks were mechanically harvested July 22nd through July 28th 2008, yielding approximately 18 bushels per acre. Several of the strips were only partially harvested because of the severe Jointed Goatgrass stands.

3. Evaluation of Medic plots by visiting faculty Roy Latta, Science Leader
Mallee Research Station, Walpeup (Below),

a. Review Laramie Medic (Dryland):
Jason Bagley thesis and lit review found suitable production, quality, winter hardiness and seed softening to validate Laramie as a suitable component of a dryland wheat pasture system. Gatua establishment studies (talked of drought constraints) recommended drilling into standing stubble

Gatua trial established Laramie medic at SAREC (small plots) in 2004 that regenerated successfully and productively in the fallow phase of 2007/08. Chemical fallow restricted seed set.

b. Moccassin Montana failed establishment in the Fall of 2007 both in experimental and demonstration situations. Ley farming trial was sown on September 17, 2007 with a direct drill machine with press wheels, (compactors) following at ~ 1 cm. There was < 1 plant/m2 established (19 August 2008 11 months after sowing) which have both very recently senesced and in some cases continue to bloom. Doubtful if the pod produced is mature to germinate in 2008, certainly you would assume that the current blooms and pod formation will be lost.

c. SAREC Suggestions are that Paisley Krall study did not establish Laramie successfully in the Fall/Spring? of 2006/07 or the Spring of 2007/08. (<1 plt/m2 in plots 202 and 104 summer 2008)

d. Review of 2006/07 sown medic seed pods available for establishment in fall of 2008 suggests:

Plot 201 has 20% of site with very low medic pod numbers, 80% has none

Plot 103 with 60% of plot area having approximately 40 pods/m2, potentially 20-40 plants/m2 but still large areas of bare ground.

Plot 202 and 104 (2007/08 established medic) have variable densities of annual medic established 0 - 4 plts/m2 however the plots have good numbers of plants on the north end of plots (Double seeding rate? Lifting drill shallow sowing? Increased compaction?)

However it is unlikely that the spring sown medic will produce mature seed from the most recent August rainfall >1 inch 15/8/08.

Suggestions are there has been a lack of day to day on site project management based on the current poor/lack of weed control and grazing management, probably exacerbated by poor Laramie establishment

Commercial – Alton Lerwick established Laramie successfully in the Spring of 2008. It was sown 26 March at 5-6 lbs/ac with a direct drill seeder system into a wet soil profile but with no significant precipitation until 50 points on 10 April allowed germination and emergence. On August 7, 2008 the Laramie medic at Lerwick site was found to have produced approximately 1.8 t/ha (1600 lbs/ac) of biomass (see below) having had 1 pod set (with no germinable seed on 7 August 2008) and a second group of pods still maturing. This was achieved under a dense cover of tumbleweeds

Research recommendations:

Herbicide recommendations essential (have to have clear messages in relation to cleaning up weeds, both grass and broadleaf herbicide tolerance?)

Establishment - Seed needs to be in place when rain arrives (dry sowing? Sowing pods?) Gatua tried pods in a low technology system but no germination occurred, I am not aware that he measured viable seeds in the pods.
Soil water content and water use: Re to help explain establishment failure and subsequent yield loss in crops

4. Additional Research:
Seed germination study: After visiting and evaluating the Lerwick site, seed pods from the SAREC Paisley/Krall project were evaluated along with seed pods from the Lerwick producer site:
This preliminary research indicates that based on the high percentage of hard seed found at SAREC, even if optimum conditions were to occur at the Paisley/Krall research site, very little germination would occur due to the high percentage of hard seed.

5. Additional medic research:
Research brief published in the UW Animal Science 2008 Research Report

Title: Adaptation of annual legumes as winter annuals on the central high plains for use in integrated crop and livestock systems. Authors: Steve Paisley, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Christopher Loehr, Graduate Research Assistant UW, Frances Loehr, Graduate Research Assistant UW, Jim Krall, Director of Research, Jerry Nachtman Research Associate II, SAREC.

Common dryland, or rain-fed agronomic practices on the high plains often consist of a wheat/fallow crop rotation. Wheat/fallow consists of one year of growing wheat followed by one year in which the ground is tilled and/or sprayed with herbicide, but no crop is actually grown. Fallow is used to build sufficient soil moisture for the subsequent wheat crop. . Because a considerable amount of annual moisture comes during the winter months and it would be beneficial to establish a crop - to take advantage of this moisture, as well as reduce wind erosion. Additionally, Traditional cropping systems may have to undergo serious change in the near future as milder winters and warmer summers impact agriculture on the northern great plains. At the same time, the price of land, fuel, and inputs continues to increase. The purpose of this project is to investigate possible alternatives to the traditional wheat/fallow crop rotation by adding a forage component composed of a legume crop in place of traditional fallowing. This added crop has the potential to improve nitrogen status in the soil, thus reducing inputs and possibly increasing economic returns in the form of harvestable forage, while reducing soil erosion from both water and wind. The main focus of this project is to test winter survivability and forage production of several legumes species. Winter survivability is of concern as these crops would be sown into wheat stubble in the fall, when they would germinate, followed by harvesting the subsequent spring or summer before another rotation of wheat. Species currently being examined are: toni lentil, indianhead lentil, common hairy vetch, namoi wolly pod vetch, morava vetch, rasina vetch, Laramie medic, and Austrian winter pea. Many of these species’ growth has not been studied in southeastern Wyoming. Additional legumes include the recently established Laramie medic and newly acquired Phrygia medic from Australia. Crops are being grown under irrigation at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC), near Lingle, Wyoming. Forage analysis will be conducted on these crops along with an economic analysis of this system versus a common wheat fallow operation. The table below shows some preliminary data collected from this project as the average weight in pounds collected from two 2.56ft sections of row cover.

6. Producer outreach:
Between surgical procedures, Dr. Jim Krall was keynote speaker at the December 6th Sustainable Crops and Livestock Systems Conference, held at Sidney, NE, organized by the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service (attached). Dr. Krall discussed “Medics as forage and cover crop for the high plains” as the keynote presentation.

7. During the remainder of the study, we hope to:

a. Continue to evaluate the additional small-scale studies to investigate alternative winter annual forages and legumes, determining if other varieties would work well in cropping system rotations in SE Wyoming.

b. Based on data collected through this study, as well as additional data collected at the station, provide an agronomic as well as economic analysis of the proposed cropping systems, additionally discussing alternative ley system crop rotations and other alternative forages.

c. With the addition of an ag economist to our Experiment Station staff, we will move ahead in developing cropping system budgets for the proposed system, estimating forage production and livestock grazing potential.

d. It is our belief that with rising fuel and fertilizer costs, the proposed systems, (despite our difficulty in initial establishment), are good examples of alternative crop rotation systems to help reduce overall inputs while maintaining or improving soil dynamics.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Although we have struggled with establishment of crops, we have taken the following approach:

Two graduate student assistantships have been funded through this grant: Chris Loehr and Frances Loehr. They have continued to work on collaborative research associated with SAREC and dryland cropping systems.

Frances Loehr:
Traditional and self-fed cull cow feeding programs: evaluation of performance and economics. 2008. Niemela, F.D., C.L. Loehr, and S.I. Paisley. Proc. Western Section, American Society of Animal Science. Accepted April, 2008.

Traditional and self-fed cull cow feeding programs: evaluation of performance and economics. 2008. Proc. University of Wyoming Graduate Student Symposium. Niemela, F.D., C.L. Loehr, and S.I. Paisley.

Evaluation of prepartum alternative oilseed meal supplementation on beef cow and calf performance. 2008. F.D. Loehr, C.L. Loehr, S. Paisley, T. Smith, E. Lee Belden, B. Hess. University of Wyoming Animal Science Research Report.

Chris Loehr.
C.L. Loehr, J.J. Nachtman, J.T. Cecil, S.I. Paisley, and J.M. Krall, 2009. Adaptation of fall sown medic, pea, vetch, and lentil to the 2007-09 climate of the High Plains of Wyoming. Proc. West. Sec. Am. Soc. Anim. Sci. (Oral Presentation) 60: submitted for June 2009 presentation.

C.L. Loehr, J.J. Nachtman, J.T. Cecil, S.I. Paisley, and J.M. Krall. 2009. Adaptation of fall sown medic , pea , vetch , and lentil to the 2007-2009 climate of the High Plains of Wyoming. UW Graduate School Graduate Student Symposium poster

Chris Loehr, Jerry Nachtman, Jack Cecil, Steve Paisley, and Jim Krall. 2008. Adaptation of fall sown medic, pea, vetch, and lentil to the 2007-08 climate of the High Plains of Wyoming. (Poster Presentation) WSCS Abst., Waimea, HI. June 16-18.

We have also continued to work at establishment issues with medics, incorporating them into long-term dryland rotational systems.