Integrating livestock and cover crops into irrigated crop rotations

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $249,954.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Wyoming
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jay Norton
University of Wyoming
John Ritten
University of Wyoming

Information Products


  • Agronomic: barley, sugarbeets
  • Vegetables: beans
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, double cropping, nutrient cycling, strip tillage, water management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: public participation

    Proposal abstract:

    Changing markets, technology, and attitudes are creating opportunities for new paradigms
    supporting wider adoption of soil-building practices, but there is little science-based information
    about integrating livestock and cover crops into irrigated crop rotations. While a few producers
    in the sugarbeet/malting barley production area of northwestern Wyoming and south central
    Montana experiment with cover crops following barley harvest for soil cover and livestock
    forage, uncertainties about costs and benefits, and how to navigate options, mean that intensive
    tillage and expansive bare soil are still the norm in this region. To address questions about effects
    of different cover crop options on subsequent cash crops, soil quality, forage yield and quality,
    and farm economics we will establish an on-station trial in a producer-driven long-term rotation
    experiment at the University of Wyoming Powell Research and Extension Center, an on-farm
    experiment with at least five producers, and innovative education programs and products. We
    will evaluate four types of cover crops following barley in systems where sugarbeet is the
    subsequent crop. Cover crop types include volunteer barley regrowth, replanted barley, soil
    building mix, and livestock production mix. The on-station experiment will be embedded in the
    long-term rotation experiment where half of each cover crop plot will remain unharvested and
    half will be harvested for hay. The on-farm experiments will be established after harvest of
    irrigated barley where producers winter graze replanted barley. On-farm plots will be split, with
    half ungrazed in 0.1-acre exclosures and half winter grazed with the rest of the field. The
    participatory research will creating settings for farmer inquiry, peer-to-peer learning, and lasting
    relationships. We will optimize those opportunities by 1) expanding our technological exchange
    created for the long-term rotation experiment; 2) field-based hands-on workshops; 3) Extension
    and research publications; and 4) impact evaluation with on-going responsive adjustments to
    research and extension activities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will provide producers with knowledge to implement soil-building practices for
    more sustainable irrigated cropping systems. Specific objectives include quantifying and
    comparing effects of four types of cover crops (volunteer barley, replanted barley, and two cover
    crop mixes) and three residue treatments (hay, grazed, and no harvest) on:
    1. Yield and quality of subsequent crops;
    2. Soil quality and organic matter cycling;
    3. Forage quality and quantity of the four cover crop types;
    4. Water use efficiency in subsequent sugarbeets;
    5. Costs and benefits of different cover crop/forage options;

    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.