A new project is underway that aims to bring livestock back into cropping operations in order to boost soil health and protect water quality.
Match Made in Heaven: Livestock + Crops is the title of this new venture, a sub-project of Green Lands Blue Waters, which is a regional collaboration of farmers, universities and environmental organizations. The grant to start ‘Match Made in Heaven’ came from North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE), a federal agency that funds sustainable ag projects.
“The goal of [Match Made in Heaven: Livestock + Crops] is to start a conversation within the agriculture community in the Upper Midwest about the benefits of reintegrating livestock into cropping systems,” says Laura Paine, co-director of the project. Paine is also an outreach coordinator for Grassland 2.0 at UW.
Paine says it’s based on the premise that there’s increased interest in soil health and protecting water. As agriculture becomes more specialized in one operation, such as cash cropping, the benefits that livestock bring to both soil health and protecting water quality are lost. This project is about helping farmers think of ways to reintegrate livestock into systems that may not currently have them, she explains.
Farming practices that integrate crops and livestock, such as grazing cover crops or crop residue, can create mutual benefits on both the crop and livestock sides. Crop enterprises can save on fertilizer costs, break pest and disease cycles, add soil organic matter, market their cover crop as forages, and potentially receive ecosystem service credits. Livestock enterprises can use cover crops and crop aftermath to stretch the grazing season into winter.
The first order of business for ‘Match Made in Heaven’ was an infographic that depicts those benefits: https://greenlandsbluewaters.org/match-made-in-heaven-livestock-crops/#infographic
“A key feature of crop and livestock integration is that the same farmer need not do all the work to make it happen,” says Paine. “It’s exciting to think about the potential for partnerships between crop producers, livestock producers, and custom operators and how that can support local economies and build relationships.”
She adds beginning farmers are another group that can benefit from such partnerships. The infographic acknowledges some of the many challenges of integration as well and suggests places to start.
‘Match Made In Heaven’ will span three years across six states. The centerpiece is a survey of crop and livestock farmers across the Upper Midwest to identify their successes and challenges around integrating crops and livestock. Then, each of the six states will identify a case study farm that has successfully integrated crops/livestock into its operation. A financial study of these farms will guide the creation of a calculator-type tool and recommended protocols that other farms can use. Each farm will host a field day. Finally, the project will create a resource library with tools for both educators and farmers.