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HomeARSSoil Health Principles Part 5 - Diversity is Key

Soil Health Principles Part 5 – Diversity is Key

Principles provide the foundation for the decisions we make on a daily basis about how we manage our grazing and cropping operations. If you’ve missed any of the series, you can catch up here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and Part 4.

In the fifth part of our series on soil health principles, Buz Kloot focuses on the benefits of diversity for improving soil health. In his examples of a garden and two different row crop farmers, he demonstrates how growing a variety of cash crops, and a planting a diverse cover crop mix, can improve soil pH, and important plant nutrients like potassium and phosphorous. This reduces costs associated with using commercial fertilizers while maintaining and sometimes increasing production of cash crops.

Mixing warm season and cool season plant, broad leaf plants and grasses, and adding legumes, are all ways do provide diversity, as well as resilience. Buz notes that different plants to better at different times, so having a diversity of species ensures that there will always be something covering the soil. For those of us interested in choosing diverse cover crops, he shares this chart, developed by the Agricultural Research Service’s Dr. Mark Liebig.

You can read more about this chart and download your own copy here.


Take a look at the 5:49 video and then we’ll talk about pasture diversity and some of its benefits below.

How Do We Manage for Diversity?

Diversity is one of the most important services pastures provide. As we noted early this fall, research demonstrates that diversity increases long-term carbon sequestration. It provides wildlife habitat, something that is increasingly important as large landscapes are broken up. Diversity is also important to the grazier, providing resilience in drought, and as one On Pasture author noted, it also improves animal productivity.

So how do we mange for diversity. We can start by making sure we don’t graze the same place at the same time every year. Time grazing to increase what you want, or keep what you need. As an example, check out how these graziers successfully adjusted their grazing to increase warm season grasses in their pastures:

Like these graziers, you can use your livestock to manage for increased diversity, but it requires ongoing, careful observation. We need to include differences in growing conditions across years as a result of drought or wet cycles, loss of forage to wildlife or insects, and other changing conditions. It means basing our management on the growth of our pasture forages, not a calendar date.

In many cases, changing your grazing management from year-round use to rotating through pastures can also increase diversity. If you’ve ever attended a workshop or presentation by Greg Judy, he’s sure to tell you that simply improving his grazing management dramatically increased diversity in his pastures. Here he shares what’s growing in his pastures now:

Of course you can always add to diversity by seeding. Here are some ideas for approaching pasture improvement with seeding and pasture mixes:

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. Yes! Look at what Gabe Brown did in N. Dakota on 16″ a year and no irrigation. His pastures are always good, and his crops the same, even during droughty years.

  2. I love the video series by Buz Kloot. He is direct, personable, and avoids wild generalizations, supporting everything he says with apt anecdotes and examples. Thank you very much for providing these to us.

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