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Research Shows Grazing Cover Crops Profitable to Dryland Farmers

High Plains research shows positive profit potential and soil improvement with grazed spring-seeded cover crops in low-rainfall areas.

Recent research in the High Plains is showing cover crop and forage mixtures offer soil-building and profit potential even to growers in areas of low rainfall.

A 2 year on-farm study by researchers from Colorado State University, Kansas State University, and USDA’s NRCS shows spring-planted covers afford growers 30-40 days of grazing before a fall-seeded winter wheat crop, as well as measurable improvements in soil quality.

Meagan Schipanski, an assistant professor of cropping systems at CSU and a principal researcher on the 2016-17 project, says the results show cover crops provide cropping system flexibility, even to growers in semi-arid conditions in some years.

“Many growers are concerned that a cover crop will use valuable moisture needed for subsequent small grain crops in the fall when compared with just fallowing the fields,” she explains. “The results of this study show fallow management does provide more moisture at the 3-6 foot level than in treatments of a spring-planted and grazed cover mixture, but moisture levels nearer the surface were usually not significantly different.”

Schipanski says the deeper moisture found in fallowed ground would make a difference to small grain production, particularly if no rain fell through the growing season after establishment.


“We’re diversifying the income stream and reducing inputs to offset potential yield drag in the following wheat crop…”
— Meagan Schipanski


“There’s good reason to believe wheat roots get that deep and that you would notice a difference if you didn’t get any more rain,” she explains. “If it doesn’t rain…

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