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.
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: