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Progress Report: Evaluating Strategic Land-use Options, Forage, Crop, and Livestock Integration

Written by: Akim Omokanye,

Location:Hines Creek Colony

With Collaboration from:Michael Gross, (Producer Hines Creek Colony)

Dr Obioha Durunna (Lakeland College)

Dr Guillermo Hernandez Ramirez (University of Alberta)

From: Peace Country Beef & Forage Association 2019 Annual Report


There is renewed interest in reintegrating crops and livestock because of concerns about natural resource degradation, soil quality and health, and long-term economic and environmental sustainability of farms. Integrated crop–livestock systems could foster diverse cropping systems, including the use of companion crops and crop residue to achieve multiple agronomic, economic and environmental benefits. The use of suitable companion crops will lead to greater availability of better quality feed for fall grazing. Price volatility of both cattle and grain markets, and the rising costs of chemical inputs, are also leading producers to search for alternative management systems that more closely mimic nature. Integration of crops and livestock could occur within a farm or among producers. Integrated crop-livestock systems encourage sustainable farming and generate positive interactions between crops and livestock, with environmental and economic benefits. These systems can increase soil water infiltration, improve resistance to soil erosion, build soil organic matter, enhance water availability, reduce the economic risk associated with cultivating a single product, increase on-farm nutrient cycling, and increase profits.

Objectives

1. To examine soil improvement, crop fertility savings & soil organic carbon

sequestration under several potential crop-livestock production systems

2. To examine the effectiveness of in-situ grazing of crop residues, and the use of an annual forage-type legumes as a companion crop in conventional grain production, for improving crop residue availability, quality and utilization

3. To evaluate the economic feasibility of integrated crop-livestock and improved cropping systems for beef cattle production

The project started in 2019 and will continue for another two years. The findings from this project from years 1 to 3 will provide information to producers on grazing annual crop residues as a potentially viable alternative to decrease winter feeding costs. This report provides preliminary results for an ongoing project.

Methods

The project is being be carried out at the Hines Creek Colony, near Hines Creek, Alberta.

The summary baseline soil data is provided in Table 1.

In the surface soil (0-6” depth), the soil organic matter was 7.2%, soil nitrate-N was about 80 lbs/acre (40 ppm), while soil P and K were respectively about 60 lbs/acre (30 ppm) and 314 lbs/acre (157 ppm) (Table 1).

The Estimated Nitrogen Release (ENR) was about 30 lbs/acre higher in the surface soil (0-6”) than sub-soil (6-12”). The ENE is an estimate of the amount of nitrogen that will be released over the season. In addition to organic matter level, ENR may be influenced by seasonal variations in weather conditions as well as physical soil conditions.

Experimental Design: Four treatments in a randomized complete block design with 3 replications.

The following integrated treatments are being evaluated over a 3-year period (2019, 2020, 2021):

Treatment 1 (T1) - Cereal-Pasture Cropping System: This system will involve spring seeding a mixture of winter and spring cereals. The spring cereal will be oats or barley, while the winter cereal will be Prima fall rye. Each crop in the mixture will be seeded at 75% of the normal recommended seeding rate. The oats or barley will be harvested for grain, while the fall rye will later be used for pasture, to extend fall grazing as well as provide some pasture for early spring grazing before seeding. In 2019, CDC Haymaker oats + fall rye were seeded for this treatment.

Treatment 2 (T2) - Cereal-Legume Cropping System: This will involve under-seeding a low-growing legume (such as a short-lived subterranean clover) with a spring cereal crop (such as oats or barley). The oats or barley will be harvested for grain. The straw and chaff will be bunched and later grazed, along with the low-growing legumes, to extend the fall grazing season. In 2019, CDC Haymaker oats + subterranean clover were seeded for this treatment.

Treatment 3 (T3) - Traditional Crop Rotation - with chaff bunching: This will involve a traditional crop rotation - barley in year 1, canola in year 2, and peas in year 3. Each crop will be combine harvested for grain, and the straw and chaff will be bunched and grazed in the fall. In 2019, CDC Haymaker oats was used.

Treatment 4 (Control) (T4) - Traditional Crop Rotation - without Livestock: The same crop rotation as in Treatment 3 will be used but no livestock grazing will be involved. Also, the straw and chaff from the harvested crops here will be spread across the field as in normal combine operations. In 2019, CDC Haymaker oats was used.

Large plots are being used (172 x 240 ft).

Seeding was done on May 22 with a John Deere air drill 52 ft wide with 12” row spacing.

Before seeding a pre-seed burn off was done. No in-crop spraying was done. The oats were desiccated before combining.

No fertility was applied.

A systems approach to analyzing the different cropping systems and their interactions will be used for this project later on. Some of the data to be collected over the next 3 years are:


1. Soil & environmental components

· Soil quality (0-6 & 6-12” soil depths) including SOM, N, P, K, S, pH, infiltration rates, compaction, moisture

· Soil health (CO2 respiration, potentially mineralizable N, biological quality rating) will be appraised N & P credits resulting from legumes and grazing, and their effects on each production system.

· Estimation of soil organic C sequestration: estimate the quantity of kilograms of CO2e over the 3-year period for which the study will take place. Changes in soil C storage (Mg ha-1) and C stocks in plant biomass (above and below ground) will be determined. The change in C density will be converted to kilograms of CO2e.

· Fuel used will be monitored/measured with a fuel meter for all operations involving the use of equipment (e.g. broadcast seeding, direct seeding, tillage). The amount of CO2 emitted per gallon of diesel and gasoline burned as well as for per ha will then be calculated.


2. Crop component

· Plant growth assessments (height, lodging scores)

· Grain yield & quality; straw and chaff yield & quality

· Crop canopy and health measurements with Greenseeker® optical sensor technology twice in the vegetative and once in the reproductive phase

· Assessments of nutrient deficiencies and tissue testing

· Nodulation in legumes in treatments 2, 3 & 4 will be assessed during early flowering

· Amount of soil water use (WU) - difference between spring soil water (0-24” depth) and soil water measured soon after harvest of each crop, plus growing season precipitation

· Water use efficiency (WUE) will be determined from the formula = grain yield/WU


3. Livestock component (for treatments 1, 2 & 3)

· Laboratory evaluation of forages


4. Economic performance

· A partial budget analysis of the input costs and output revenue will be an important aspect of the project. This will take into consideration the following: input (e.g. cost of seed & seeding, fertility, spraying, harvest), output (yields & prices, and revenue) and marginal returns.


Some Preliminary Results

Grain yield - The oats yield was significantly influenced by the crop-livestock treatments tested. The grain yield was highest for T4 (43 bu/acre), followed by T3 (39 bu/acre), T1 (37 bu/acre) and then T2 (31 bu/acre) (Table 2). Both T3 and T4 showed significantly higher grain yield than T2.

Grain Quality - The grain protein content was statistically similar for all treatments investigated. The grain protein only varied from 9.25 to 9.78% for the treatments (Table 2). With the exception of NEL and Mn, other quality parameters measured showed similar values for the 4 treatments tested here (Table 2).

Straw Quality - The straw quality is shown in Table 3 for the different treatments. The forage protein was significantly higher for T2 straw (16.6% CP), which consisted of oats straw plus the low growing subterranean clover (Table 3). Next was T1 with a value of 12.2% CP. Of the other straw quality parameters measured, the straw Sol Protein, NDF-CP, UIP (Bypass), NDFD 24, starch, Ca, P, K, Fe, Cu and Mn all showed significant differences between the treatments tested (Table 3). In most cases, T2 had higher values than other treatments.


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