Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR)

Organic Research Database

Monday, October 24, 2016


Designing an Integrated Livestock-Grain Rotation for the Palouse Region of Washington and Idaho

Personnel:David Huggins
Lynne Carpenter-Boggs
Cooperators:Stephen Bramwell, graduate student, WSU Crops & Soils
Keywords:Palouse, livestock, dryland, grain
Abstract:see below

The Need for Farm Integration: The Palouse is a highly productive and highly erosive cereal cropping region, reliant on large inputs of nutrients and very few crops. As interest in organic cropping increases in this region, inherent and induced limitations of the natural resource base and economics serve to both limit options for organic production and define system requirements. The integration of grazing livestock into cropping systems diversifies farm income, provides low-risk biological options for weed and pest control, and in many cases increases the productivity of land. Wise integration of livestock can reduce fertilizer and pesticide costs, reduce groundwater pollution and improve systemic energy efficiency by reducing transportation and synthetic farm inputs (Hatfield et al., 1999; Krall et al., 2002; Matson et al, 1997; others). These findings suggest that interest in organic crop production should be paralleled by inquiries concerning the role of livestock in Palouse agroecosystems. As a result, our producer-researcher team is comparing alternative integrated systems, developing management models and materials, and assessing the economic and environmental benefits of these systems.

Building on Past Work: The experimental design of the current research builds on research initiated in 2001 known as the Agroecosystem Research Trials (ART). The research investigates ecologically based management principles. Lack of fertility, weed pressure, lack of profitability, and low crop diversity prompted treatment redesign with livestock integration.

Designing Integrated Livestock-Cereal Cropping Rotations: Regional specialists suggest that combining no-till, organic practices and diversification of cereal crops with livestock-grazed pasture is possible—though it would be challenging. Grass and legume species, wheat variety, stocking rates and management timing, among other variables, will determine the success or failure of such a system. The aim of the current research is to (1) identify critical management issues, (2) develop management strategies to address them, and (3) work with a producer-researcher group to test and modify these strategies. Resolutions of management issues are expected to be iterative. The issues now being addressed include an overview of a multi-year rotation plan, pasture species selection and establishment, the pasture to cereal transition, and the impact of pasture-phases on soil biological resources and nutrient cycling.

Pasture Species Selection: Two grass mixes and three legume mixes have been identified for prospective pasture mixtures. The success of particular combinations will be determined by growth through the season, ability to inhibit the forage in year 3 for wheat establishment, complimentarity of growth habits, drought tolerance, non-bloat characteristics, palatability and grazing re-growth.

Pasture to Cereal Transition: Cultural practices to transition farmland from annual to perennial management and vice versa characteristically utilize a combination of fallow, herbicides and heavy cultivation. The current research is investigating strategies to make this transition via pasture species selection, annual wheat growth characteristics, reduced tillage, and control over water resources and grazing severity.

Implementation: The physical settings of the experiments are the USDA-ARS Palouse Conservation Field Station (PCFS) and two commercial integrated farms in eastern Washington. Experimental sites are regionally focused to minimize environmental variation and maximize producer-researcher interfacing. These sites will be utilized to run side-by-side comparisons of integrated with non-integrated crop management systems, increase producer awareness of integrated farming systems, enable the research team to trouble-shoot system difficulties through field-scale, on-farm replications, and enhance outreach.

Literature Cited

Hatfield, P.G., S.L. Blodgett, G.D. Johnson, P.M. Denke, R.W. Kott, M.W. Carroll. 1999. Sheep Grazing to Control Wheat Stem Sawfly. Sheep & Goat Research Journal 15(3): 159-160.

Krall, J.K., R.G. Groose, R.D. Delaney, J. Nachtman. The Greening of Wyoming. In: Reflections. University of Wyoming Press, 2002.

Matson, P.A., W.J. Parton, A.G. Power, M.J. Swift. 1997. Agricultural Intensification and Ecosystem Properties. Science 277: 504-509.

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