Survey and Economic Analysis of Montana Farms Utilizing Integrated Livestock-Cereal Grain (Ley Farming) Systems

2007 Annual Report for SW06-006

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $91,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Chengci Chen
Montana State University

Survey and Economic Analysis of Montana Farms Utilizing Integrated Livestock-Cereal Grain (Ley Farming) Systems


With the funding support from Western Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education grant, a survey was conducted on 4,200 Montana farmers and ranchers. Seven hundred and six producers responded to the survey. Forty-three percent (43%) of producers have been practicing crop-livestock integrated production systems, although only 5% of them are very familiar with ley farming systems. Economic analysis on selected producers is being carried out. To increase producer knowledge in ley farming, an on-farm demonstration study was set up on a farmer’s land and another research and demonstration study was established at a research center in 2007.

This project has completed the first phase of the work, i.e. survey on Montana farmers and ranchers. The research team has interviewed selected farmers and ranchers and assessed the successes and problems of the farms in practicing ley farming. Preliminary economic analysis has been conducted. Further economic analysis will be done after additional field data are collected. To increase producer’s knowledge in ley farming and test the adaptability of newly developed legume species, we established an on-farm demonstration study on an organic farmer’s land and an research and demonstration study at the CARC in 2007. An additional demonstration plot was set up on a conventional farm in the fall of 2008. A field day/crop tour was successfully organized on June 19, 2008.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1)Survey the current crop and livestock production systems in Montana and assess the awareness and knowledge of producers on Australian ley farming.

2)Conduct in-depth assessments on the successes and problems (agronomic and economic) of representative producers and farms practicing ley farming.

3)Demonstrate the adaptability of newly developed annual legume species, disseminate this information, and educate producers on the incorporation of these crops into their cropping systems.


A 4-page pamphlet was designed containing 1) survey background, 2) 13 survey questions, 3) address and phone number of contacts, 4) pre-paid return envelope.

The survey pamphlet was mailed to 4,200 Montana farmers and ranchers in late December of 2006. Seven hundred and six farmers and ranchers completed and returned the survey (last one was received in June 2007). Among the 706 responses, 63 people were either retired or deceased; only 643 were valid surveys.

The farmers and ranchers who answered the survey were nearly evenly distributed across the state. The survey covered 55 out of 56 counties in Montana. The distribution chart by each county is shown in Fig. 1.

According to the survey, crop and livestock production in Montana was summarized in the following. Among the 643 farmers and ranchers, 459 or 71% of them had small grain crops, 449 or 70% of them raised livestock, and 278 or 43% of them indicated to have both livestock and small grains. The farmers and ranchers under each of above categories were identified on the map in Fig.2. This survey result indicates that slightly less than half of Montana farmers and ranchers (43%) had some kind of livestock and crop integrated cropping systems. More detailed survey information can be seen in the PowerPoint presentation that was presented at the 2007 Western Society Crop Science Annual Conference at Las Cruces, NM (Chen et al., 2007). The most encouraging thing in this survey was that 216 or 34% of farmers and ranchers have expressed their interests in obtaining more information about ley farming, and 67 farmers and ranchers across Montana wanted to participate in the ley farming study.

Among the 643 farmers and ranchers, 30 or 5% of them were very familiar with ley farming, 191 or 30% were slightly familiar with ley farming, and 412 or 64% of them never heard about ley farming. There were 10 or 1.5% who did not specify their familiarity with ley farming. The 30 farmers and ranchers who were very familiar with ley farming were identified on the map in Fig. 3.

Only two farmers actively practiced ley farming with medic, and both were organic farmers. After carefully analyzing the survey results, the research team (Chengci Chen, Dave Buschena, and Clain Jones) took a site visit with those two farmers as well as one farmer who practiced conventional farming with mixed legumes and grazing. During the site visit, we observed and received comments from the farmers about the benefits and problems of ley farming. General conclusions were:

1)Black medic germinated in May each year, therefore, it did not have a long enough growing season to produce sufficient biomass for green manure.

2)In organic cropping systems, black medic did not leave enough biomass as green manure after grazing.

3)Fall-seeded winter pea and lentil can germinate in the fall and have an early growth in the spring, therefore, they could produce more biomass than black medic.

4)Fall-seeded winter lentil might have self-seeding capability and can serve as an alternative ley farming legume.

5)Winter pea produced considerable amounts of biomass, and livestock had been grazing on winter peas on producers’ farms. Winter pea can be used in both organic and conventional farming systems. Winter pea mixed with wheat straw could be a good feed for livestock in the winter.

Based on above observations during the site visit, the research team decided to set up a demonstration trial on Jess Alger’s farm and to establish a research and demonstration trial at the Central Agricultural Research Center, Moccasin, MT. Rigid medic, trefoil, winter lentil, and winter pea have been seeded at both locations in September 2007 to test their adaptability and potential for ley farming. Because conventional farmers have a concern that those legumes might become weeds on their farms, we decided not to conduct any demonstration studies on conventional farms until farmers have a chance to see the results at the research center site. Another on-farm ley farming field demonstration plot will be established in 2008-2009 on a farm with conventional non-organic practice.

The PI of the project and the cooperators had a planning meeting on October 24, 2007, to assess the work in the past year and to plan for this fall and winter. The work for this winter includes economic data and historical soil quality data collection from selected farmers, and to determine soil sampling and analysis strategies for the selected farms. Dr. Dave Buschena is currently working on the economic budget for cattle grazing on winter peas.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Small grain and livestock production is important in the western region of the United States. About half of the farmers and ranchers in Montana have both grain and livestock productions on their farms. They are continuously seeking economically and environmentally sustainable integrated crop-livestock production systems. Many farmers and ranchers have requested more information and results from this research project, and some of them have expressed their willingness to participate in the study. After completion of this project, the knowledge generated will benefit the livestock and crop producers in Montana and beyond. Farmers and ranchers will be educated through crop tours and workshops during the project period. The survey results have been presented at the Western Society of Crop Science Annual Conference in Las Cruces, NM in June 2007.


John Paterson
Professor and Beef/Cattle Specialist
Montana State University
Room 220 Linfield Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717
Office Phone: 4069945562
Jon Kvaalen
Owner and Operator
Montana Love Grain and Livestock
PO Box 201
Lambert, MT 59243
Office Phone: 4067743789
Bob Bayles

Boyes, MT 59316
Roy Latta
Science & Location Leader
Mallee Research Station
Private Bag 1
Walpeup, Victoria
Australia 3507
Office Phone: 0350917246
Clain Jones
Extension Soil Fertility Specialist
Montana State University
Room 334 Leon Johnson Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717
Office Phone: 4069946076
David Buschena
Associate Professor of Economics
Montana State University
Room 307E, Linfield Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717
Office Phone: 4069945623
Jess Alger
Box 27
Stanford, MT 59479
Office Phone: 4065662483
James Krall
Professor of Plant Science
University of Wyoming
Research and Extension Center
4516 US Highway 26/85 #2
Torrington, WY 82240
Office Phone: 3075327194