Soil Health Isn’t Free – Incorporating Livestock Can Reduce Economic Risk

Doug Sieck farms in north central South Dakota. He runs cattle, backgrounding calves on cornstalks with their mothers, and grazing yearlings on grass. Crop-wise he grows corn, soybeans, oats, and warm and cool season cover crops. About 5 years ago he started dedicating a fourth of his cropland acres to full season cover crops. He was inspired to head down this road after a pasture walk at Gabe Brown’s place and working with the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition.

Keeping soils covered is one of the keys to soil health, and cover crops are often promoted as a good way to prevent erosion while also adding nutrients to the soil. But cover crop seeding isn’t free. What can we do to mitigate the economic risk involved? That’s what Doug Sieck talks about with Buz Kloot in this 3 minute video.

In this, the fifth video of a seven part series, Doug describes the economic risks of switching to no-till and of planting cover crops and how incorporating livestock that use those crops can increase diversity in an operation and reduce risk.

“If I’m going to dedicate some acres to a cover crop, if I or my neighbor has some livestock that we can bring in and generate some revenue from it, that helps offsets some of the risk of just planting it from a soil health standpoint,” Doug says.

For those of you who have cattle, and neighbors trying to manage corn crop residue, Sieck also has some great tips for how to work together. He covers examples of the valid concerns the corn farmer might have about having cattle in his crop fields, and how to address them. I hope it will give you some ideas about how you might work with your own neighbors.

Merit or Myth is a great series on soil health produced by Buz Kloot and Barret Self and sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of South Dakota. You can see Season 1 and Season 2 here.

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