Ley Farming Explanation
Crop-fallow was the dominant wheat system in many semiarid regions by the 1940s. Unfortunately, prolonged use of crop-fallow created economic and environmental problems. Ley farming was developed as an alternative to crop-fallow in Australia. Cereal grain crops and legume pasture are rotated in ley farming, thereby allowing the integration of crop and livestock enterprises into a flexible and diversified production system. Legume pasture initially is established mechanically, but thereafter it regenerates naturally from the soil seed bank with only a periodic need to be reinvigorated. The pasture phase provides a break in pest cycles and also reduces N fertilizer needs of the subsequent cereal grain crop because of the N fixing ability of the legume species.
Ley farming was practiced on more than 50 million acres in the “wheat-sheep” zone of southern Australia by the 1980s. On average, wheat yields increased by 48% and grain protein concentration by 2% following the replacement of crop-fallow with ley farming. Improvements in soil physical properties and reductions in soil erosion also were observed.
The potential of ley farming to improve the economics of dryland wheat production in the Great Plains of North America was recognized in the late 1960s by Jim Sims at Montana State University. A project was initiated to determine if ley farming could be adopted in the Northern Great Plains. Unfortunately, funding reductions and other developments resulted in the project being discontinued.
Funding from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, administered by the USDA, has allowed the potential for ley farming in the Northern Great Plains to be reconsidered. Preliminary results of studies conducted by scientists in North Dakota and Wyoming suggest that ley farming has widespread potential in the region. A special federal grant will allow this effort to be expanded and include scientists in Montana. Results of this effort will be posted on this web page, as well as results of similar efforts in other regions throughout North America. Links with commercial and scientific experts on ley farming will be made as they become available.
Enhancing Grain Production of Great Plains Cropping Systems with a Legume-Pasture Phase – Progress Report
Enhancing Grain Production of Great Plains Cropping Systems with a Legume-Pasture Phase – Final Report