What is in this article?:
• Research has shown that a comprehensive rotation program, coupled with reduced or no-till systems, provides far-reaching benefits.
• Perennial grasses push roots deep into the soil and build organic matter.
• Cattle play an important role in the sod-based system.
JIM MAROIS, University of Florida.
He said cattle actually help nutrient management and may add as much as $120 per acre with nutrient cycling in the top six inches of soil. Cattle manure and urine contribute to nutrient levels.
Compaction is not a big deal. “Cattle compact soil a lot less than farmers feared,” Marois said. “Peanuts following grazed land were not difficult to dig.”
Typically, farmers place cattle on the land in June and keep them on until first frost, Marois said. In some cases, with overgrowth for instance, cattle may stay on longer or be put on for additional short periods to manage vegetative growth.
Farmers may seed fields while cattle are on and “let the cattle punch the seed into the soil.”
Aflatoxin is also less of a problem in peanuts with sod-based rotations. “With high temperatures, dry soils and plant stress we found no aflatoxin in either irrigated or non-irrigated peanuts. Soil moisture retention is better.”
He said they don’t see nematodes in bahiagrass.
Oklahoma State University Extension agronomist Chad Godsey said organic matter averages about 1 percent in much of Oklahoma’s cropland. “A 1 percent increase in organic matter means a lot of bushels of wheat or other crop,” he said.
Marois said farmers using strip-till in this system may rip the soil down to 10 inches to 12 inches so “the root system will go deeper, especially in heavier soils and with peanuts — not so much for cotton. We want to disturb the soil as little as possible.”
Marois said perennial grass options for the Southwest likely will differ from those suited to Florida, but he said the principles still hold.
“Start the program on the worst part of the farm,” he recommended. “If it works there it will be beneficial across the farm.”
Sod-based rotation research has widespread support throughout the Southeast, he said. Cooperators include Auburn University, National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, National Peanut Laboratory, University of Georgia, Virginia Tech, Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Cotton Incorporated, Florida Water Management Districts, USDA, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and others.
He said Coca Cola has also worked with the project on sustainability issues.