Research looks at integrating crops, livestock to enhance organic farm resilience
Currently, organic production in the U.S. is dominated by cash grain crops, with the majority of organic farmers in the Midwest and Northeast using off-farm purchases to feed their organic animal herds. Integrating crops and livestock on a multi-function operation could have multiple benefits and the potential to improve the profitability of these kinds of operations.
Researchers at Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota, and Rodale Institute are in the second year of a four-year project, funded by the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative, to evaluate the production, environmental, and economic benefits of growing cash crops with forage crops for grazing, including small grains and hay crops for livestock feed. They are comparing two crop rotations—pasture-winter wheat-soybean-pasture and pasture-winter rye/hairy vetch-corn-pasture—and grazing dairy steers on the cover crops as a method of integrating livestock and organic cropping systems.
Pasture, Animal Productivity
At the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center’s organic dairy in Morris, Minn., the dairy bull calves are: Holsteins; crossbreeds, including combinations of Holstein, Montbéliarde, and Swedish Red (HMS); and, crossbreeds, including combinations of Normande, Jersey, and Swedish Red (NJS).
These steers are grazing on a pasture divided in half for the two crop sequences (S1: Pasture-wheat-soybean, and S2: Pasture-rye/vetch-corn). These pastures are separated into 15 paddocks, with a non-grazed enclosure in each paddock.
Winter wheat and winter rye forages were planted on Sept. 11, 2015, for grazing during spring 2016. During this spring, calves were randomly assigned to replicated groups (winter wheat or winter rye), but balanced by breed group to reduce potential breed bias. Twelve-month old dairy steers started grazing the wheat and rye pastures on April 25, 2016. Forage samples were collected when steers moved to new paddocks which was about every three days.
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