The Impacts of Integrating Livestock into Cropping Systems on Soil Health and Crop Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $249,502.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Devon Ragen
Montana State University

Information Products


  • Agronomic: buckwheat, clovers, wheat
  • Animals: goats, sheep, swine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, manure management
  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships


    Our team of livestock and crop producers, researchers, educators, and extension specialists propose a research and education project that documents, disseminates, and demonstrates the impacts of incorporating livestock into grain, cover crop, and vegetable garden systems on soil health. We will investigate the effects of integrated plant-livestock production by determining impacts on the microbial diversity, biochemistry, and compaction of soil, and assess the resulting impacts on soil and plant tissue nutrients, and root biomass of cover crops as well as subsequent impacts on crop yields and livestock performance in both production farms and a field research environment. These biological, agronomic, and livestock responses will be the basis for future enterprise-level economic assessment of these diverse systems. We propose to conduct a broad-based series of independent studies to compare soil health and subsequent crop production in five diverse agricultural systems that include organic livestock, vegetable, and cash crop farms, and a university research farm. Finally, our project will demonstrate and disseminate not only results but we will also promote our integrated approach and develop best management practices led by a partnership between National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and Montana State University (MSU) extension. NCAT also manages the USDA ATTRA Project which has provided nationwide outreach and education on sustainable agriculture topics for over 28 years.   Farmers should expect that the adoption of integrated crop–livestock systems will enhance both profitability and environmental sustainability of their farms and communities. We expect that findings of grazing-influenced relationships among soil microbial communities, soil biochemistry, soil health, and crop production will be well received by producers via our MSU and NCAT/ATTRA outreach programs. Our project has a high level of interest from a diverse group of commercial agricultural producers and high potential for engagement with a variety of producers and producer groups.

    Project objectives:

    The research goal of this project is to understand how livestock-grazing activity affects soil biology and associated nutrient cycling when integrated in a variety of common cropping and vegetable production systems. Producers and scientists on our team agree that soil biology is linked to soil health which is clearly linked to sustainability. To accomplish this goal we will address four specific objectives on three commercial operations in Montana, one commercial operation in Colorado, and in a complementary long-term integrated livestock-cropping system at the MSU Fort Ellis Research and Teaching facility near Bozeman.

    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.