USDA Finds Cover Crops Can be Grazed

John DavisCover Crops, Government, Research, USDA

cattlegrazingA new study shows that allowing cattle to graze on cover crops does no damage to the soil. This article from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the Agricultural Research Service study could encourage more producers to put down the crops that help reduce soil erosion, boost organic matter, keep more moisture in soil and sequester carbon in the soil.

Conventional wisdom holds that if cattle were allowed to graze on cover crops they would eat up and remove the nitrogen and carbon otherwise left on the soil in the cover crop plant residue. Allowing cattle to tread on the soil also could compact it, preventing air and water from passing through the soil to reach plant roots.

Alan Franzluebbers, an ecologist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, conducted a 7-year study to see if grazing on cover crops affects the health of soils typical in the Piedmont region. ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting sustainable agriculture…

The results showed that the relatively low-level of grazing did not significantly affect the amount of organic matter in soil and did not compact the soil. They also showed that cover crops provided high quality forage and that the organic matter lost by allowing cattle to graze on cover crops was likely made up in the organic material supplied as manure. As in previous studies, they also found that no-till soils generally contained more carbon and nitrogen than conventional till soils.