Justin Morris
For those in southern latitudes where perennial warm-season plants are the dominant form of vegetation, has anyone had experience pasture cropping? For those who may not be aware what pasture cropping is, it's a technique of planting a cool-season annual plant like wheat or oats into a dormant warm-season perennial pasture. The warm-season pasture is grazed down pretty severely and come fall time, the cool-season annual small-grain crop is planted into the dormant warm-season perennial. Once the cool-season annual is harvested, the perennial warm-season pasture comes back as temperatures become more optimal for warm-season pasture growth. With this method one gets a couple of grazings and a small grain crop in a single year's time. Here's a website with more information on pasture cropping: https://winona.net.au/pasture-cropping/.
When I was living in central Texas and managing a small beef ranch, pasture cropping was a common practice. I used to overseed about 20 lb/ac annual ryegrass over common bermudagrass in September by broadcasting (annual ryegrass will just about germinate on concrete!!!), and would have winter and spring grazing before the bermudagrass came on. A best practice is to hit the ryegrass hard in late spring to allow the bermudagrass to emerge easier. Late spring can be tough to keep up with the growth unless you have enough animals to graze it. I grazed 24 beef heifers on a ryegrass MiG trial with daily movement and this worked well to keep it from going to seed and allowing the bermudagrass to come back strong. Mix in about 4 lb of white clover and you have a dandy gulf coast winter grazing mix.

When I was a county agent on the gulf coast I did several research demonstrations looking at varieties of annual ryegrass, legumes, and brassicas. The Gulf variety of ryegrass is well established and did well. Also, I did an economic analysis comparing hay vs annual ryegrass and though I have lost the report over the years, I did conclude that it is more economical to overseed ryegrass than to make or buy and feed hay.


Management of Annual Ryegrass - Noble Foundation
Annual Ryegrass - Texas A&M

Thanks for sharing that Lee. It's wonderful to hear of your experience with this practice in Texas. I'd love to see this technique be pushed further and further north, maybe perhaps reversing the situation where a warm season plant is planted into a cool season perennial pasture. I was thinking that the cool season perennial pasture could be severely grazed or flail mowed following grazing in the spring. Then have a strip till unit mounted onto a corn planter or drill to essentially till an 8 to 12-inch wide strip that the warm season crop could be planted into. Space the strips 60 inches apart on center so the perennial pasture will still continue to grow while also allowing the warm season plants enough time to get germinated and growing. Then the next year do the same thing in another pasture and leave the former pasture to recover and resume it's perennial state for three or four years. If this strategy were rotated around from pasture to pasture so that any one pasture would have warm-season annuals planted into it once every four to five years, the disturbance from tillage would likely be healed by the perennial pasture in a year or two. So why do this strategy? For the fencerow affect and reduce/eliminate costs from purchasing cover crop seed. It's been widely observed that crops planted into perennial pastures yield tremendously the first year or two and don't need any synthetically applied fertility because the fertility has been placed there from perennials growing there for some time. And cover crop seed is an expense that I think given the right creativity could be replaced by a perennial pasture which doesn't need to be re-seeded every year. To my knowledge, no one has ever done something like this in northern latitudes, but that doesn't mean it won't work. I'm working with one producer right now who's interested in doing this under center pivot irrigation in southeastern Idaho.
Really intriguing ideas, David, Lee and Justin! I would like to learn more. Cover crops aren't real popular up here in semi-arid, cold Montana. Both growing seasons and moisture are short. But there's always enough moisture to grow Kochia and Salsola between crops, so surely there's some cost-effective way to turn that bit of moisture into something better for soil fertility or fodder than what the weeds provide. I am woefully, nearly totally ignorant of farming practices, but am intrigued to learn more about this. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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