By the end of this module, participants will be able to:
- Name at least three benefits of planting cover crops.
- Describe at least one reason why grazing cover crops can be beneficial to a row crop producer and one reason why grazing cover crops can be beneficial to a livestock producer.
- Understand several ways to design a grazing lease.
- Describe at least two strategies to maximize cover crop biomass for grazing.
- Name several options for planting and terminating cover crops when grazing, including their tradeoffs.
- Understand the risks of nitrate and prussic acid toxicity for livestock and name at least one mitigation strategy for each.
- Describe a potential temporary fencing and watering system appropriate for use on row crop fields.
If you plant row crops, the use of cover crops can help improve soil quality and offer a bonus crop that can be grazed or harvested as forage. Cover cropping is an old concept that is again becoming popular for its many benefits. Cover crops help soil absorb water more effectively, tolerate drought, and resist erosion.
There are a growing number of farmers who plant a winter cover crop, and some farmers rotate year-long or two-year-long annual cover crops between cash crops. They monetize cover crops through intensive livestock grazing while out of cash crop rotation. Complex cover crops and livestock impact increase soil fertility needed for the next cash crop, thus lowering required input costs. This allows for greater soil biological functioning and increases soil aggregate and water infiltration rates. It also creates a greater diversity of cash flow generation, whether the farmer rents out access to the forage or raises the livestock themselves.