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Research Project: Towards Resilient Agricultural Systems to Enhance Water Availability, Quality, and Other Ecosystem Services under Changing Climate and Land Use

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Title: Use of cover crop forage mixes to enhance: Forage, soil and water quality

item Fortuna, Ann Marie
item Starks, Patrick - Pat
item Northup, Brian
item STEINER, JEAN - Kansas State University
item Moriasi, Daniel

Submitted to: Grazinglands Research Laboratory Miscellaneous Publication
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/10/2020
Publication Date: 5/3/2022
Citation: Fortuna, A., Starks, P.J., Northup, B.K., Steiner, J.L., Moriasi, D.N. 2022. Use of cover crop forage mixes to enhance: Forage, soil and water quality. Grazinglands Research Laboratory Miscellaneous Publication. 152.1 v6.

Interpretive Summary: Abstract only

Technical Abstract: Cattle production in the Southern Great Plains experiences a “forage gap” in spring and fall when high quality forage for animal weight gain is limited. Incorporation of fertilized, rain-fed, mixed forage cover crops in diverse, adaptive cropping systems that include livestock management can mitigate this gap. In addition, mixed forages increase plant cover in previously fallow periods and have the potential to improve soil health, water holding capacity and nutrient cycling. Cool season forages planted in September included a mix of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum), triticale (Secale x Triticum), buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), and turnip (Brassica rapa) in 2018 and winter wheat, rye (Secale cereale), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) and crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) in 2019. The same warm season forage cover crop mix was planted in May of 2018 and 2019, sorgham Sudan grass (Sorgham bicolor x S. bicolor var. Sudanese), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), mung bean (Vigna radiata), okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) and brown top millet (Urochloa ramosa). Cool season biomass ranged from 2,250 kg ha-1 in the converted southern tall grass prairie (STGP) (>20 year) converted to minimal disturbance and planted to winter wheat and forage mixes to 4,648 kg ha-1 in treatments under minimal disturbance (>20 yr) in winter wheat forage mixes. Winter wheat comprised the majority of the biomass in both years. Winter wheat on tilled treatments (>20 yr) utilized as forage provided intermediate biomass 3,048 kg ha-1. Biomass yield of summer forage cover crops on the converted STGP to no-till winter wheat, forage mixes was double (2858 kg ha-1) that of one long-term minimal disturbance treatment planted to winter wheat forage mixes (1,279 kg ha-1) but comparable to the second paired treatment (3089 kg ha-1). Sorghum Sudan grass and cowpea were the dominant species that constituted the bulk of the biomass in both 2019 and the growing warm season forage mix. This year’s temperature and moisture and possibly the effects of liming resulted in the emergence and growth of significantly more buckwheat and some hairy vetch. Variation in the composition and biomass of summer mixes was far more variable than that of the cool season forage mixes. These preliminary results verify the potential to fill the cattle forage gap despite highly variable climatic conditions. Future research will determine the impact of growing fertilized forage cover crops on water quality (runoff amount, suspended sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus) and nutrient cycling a component of soil health.