Grazing, cropping make profitable system

What's good for the bovine looks to be good for cotton and peanuts — and maybe the bottom line.

Researchers, in the final year of a four-year study focusing on production throughout the year, are finding that including grazing cattle in cropping systems can be beneficial to both enterprises.

The bottom line: Grazing in winter in south Georgia had no detrimental effects on peanut or cotton yields under conventional or strip-tillage. Researchers will present preliminary findings for the third consecutive year at the Sunbelt Ag Expo Field Day.

“Recent fluctuations in all traditional farm commodity prices and programs have mandated changes in the farm products grown,” says Gary Hill, a University of Georgia professor of animal and dairy science. “Higher cattle prices in 2003 and 2004 add to the urgency of incorporating cattle into rotations with crops.”

Preliminary results bear taking a closer look and seem to back up other Southeast studies incorporating cattle and crops.

Using strip and conventional-tillage, researchers planted cotton as the row crop in the first and third years of the study and peanuts in the second and fourth year. Irrigated Big Daddy ryegrass in the first year and Wrens Abruzzi rye in subsequent years were planted in the grazing portion.

In the first year, the cotton stand was no different in the grazed areas or in the strip or conventionally-tilled land.

“Water conductivity and bulk density effects may become more evident over time as the experiment continues,” says Robert Hubbard, a researcher at the USDA-ARS Southeast Watershed Laboratory, Tifton, Ga. “But in the first three crop years, there have been no adverse effects on cotton or peanut yields following winter grazing,”

In the first year, cotton in the strip-till plots showed a slight lint advantage over the conventional plots. Last year, cotton yields following grazing were again slightly higher than ungrazed areas. Strip-tillage also showed a slight advantage over conventional tillage in 2003.

Following winter grazing, peanut yields were as high from the land grazed before peanuts were planted as yields were on land that was not grazed. Under strip-till, however, peanut yields increased by 400 pounds per acre in 2002, despite rain preventing harvest until November. Peanuts again will be the principal row crop in 2004, following grazing by beef steers.

Preliminary results also indicate a benefit for cattle following cotton or peanuts.

Following cotton in 2001, steers at a low stocking rate of one per acre that grazed on rye and ryegrass gained almost 2 pounds per day during winter when other crops were not growing. That translated into a value gain of $127 per acre based on cattle prices of 85 cents per hundredweight, Hill says.

The biggest boost to the cattle enterprise's bottom line came following peanuts. This past spring, heifers on rye after peanuts had a value of gain of $178 per acre, based on 95-cent per hundredweight prices.

“The rye and ryegrass benefit from the residual nitrogen of the previous peanut crop, allowing increased forage yield and faster growth after planting,” Hill says.

He points out that the results are preliminary; complete economic analyses will be made at the end of 2004.

“The recent increase in large cattle contractors who will own the cattle and contract graze with row-crop farmers during winter, the higher prices paid for stocker cattle gain in 2003 and 2004, and the large supply of calves during autumn make the cattle/cotton/peanut systems more appealing to area farmers,” Hill says.

“Winter grazing of cattle has shown no negative effects on peanut or cotton yields, and it has indicated a potential for more dollar returns to the farm This is generating interest across the cotton/peanut growing areas of the South.”

Conducting the joint University of Georgia/Sunbelt Ag Expo study are Hill; Hubbard; Curt Lacy, University of Georgia ag economist; Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo; Darrell Williams, Expo farm manager; and Danny Sumner, a University of Georgia agricultural technician. Research for the study was funded in part by the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Cotton.

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