Diversification and Sustainable Practices May Offer Long-term Gain after Drought
September 14, 2012
With drought conditions persisting, now is a good time to implement sustainable agricultural practices. Diversify your crop rotation with small grains or crops such as millet or sorghum. Last fall, farmers who planted winter or spring small grains like oats, barley, rye, triticale, and wheat summer-harvested a decent crop.
This fall consider planting winter small grains as a dual purpose crop. If moisture conditions increase, the winter small grain crops can be harvested next year as a cash crop. If moisture is not adequate, these small grains can provide early forage for livestock. (See Grazing Winter Wheat in Nebraska, UNL EC185.) In fall 2011 at the UNL Haskell Agriculture Laboratory (HAL) near Concord, the hard red winter wheat ‘Expedition’ was planted because of its high quality milling. When the wheat was harvested on June 26, the field produced 43 bu/ac dryland.
This fall at HAL we will experiment with crimping cover crops (triticale and field peas) to reduce tillage, manage weeds, and conserve soil moisture and then plant soybean in the spring. Last March (2012) 4010 forage peas were planted as a soil fertility-building crop. (By May 29, the field peas produced 2.59 tons/ac of dry matter in 70 days.)
The peas were incorporated as a green manure and soil-building crop; however, livestock producers could have baled the peas at 20% moisture and produced 3.1 ton/acre. At the time hay was selling for $200/ton and might have provided $600/acre in income.
Employing some of these alternative cropping strategies this winter and spring could help offset drought losses and provide extra farm income. They also might provide livestock with feed.
Cross-fencing and rotational grazing were good strategies for livestock producers this year to reduce plant stress and keep pastures from being overgrazed. If you are planning to renovate some of your pastures, consider drilling chicory, alfalfa and various other grasses and legumes. The grasses will go dormant but alfalfa and chicory will regrow with rotational grazing. Chicory could be a crop to investigate for extending pastures during the dry part of the year. For more information see:
- Chicory: An Alternative Livestock Forage, a publication of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service
- Forage Chicory, an extension publication of Auburn University
Farmers can receive funding for many sustainable practices through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). (See Nebraska NRCS Program for more information.
In the short term, many producers will need immediate drought relief and aid. To prepare for the longer term, I would encourage farmers to consider implementing a plan that includes crop diversification and protection/conservation of our natural resources.
Extension Educator and Organic Project Coordinator
Haskell Agricultural Laboratory, Concord