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Central Grasslands Research Extension Center


Featured article from the Central Grasslands Forum - Fall 2014 edition

From the Ground Up: Learning About Soil Health

Fara Brummer, Area Extension Specialist/Livestock Systems, CGREC

With the recent interest in cover crops and soil health in the northern Great Plains, we have a lot to learn about the underground action that is going on in the soil. Field-based evidence is strong in showing an increase in soil health with cover crop diversity and mixed species. Research becomes challenging because soil health is a dynamic process that changes through time and is specific to the crop in the field.

Soil is the foundation for plant life, which is the foundation of our livestock operations. Livestock can thrive on crop residue or planted crops if the nutrient levels in the plant are sufficient. Soil health is important in creating healthy plants, with the potential cost savings of reduced inputs.

At the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, NDSU graduate student Erin Gaugler is studying the effects of an annual cover crop mix on soil health and livestock performance. Gaugler's adviser is Kevin Sedivec, NDSU range management specialist, with Bryan Neville, director of the CGREC, serving as co-advisor.

Gaugler's study focuses on monitoring soil structure and function, along with the effects of utilizing cover crop forages to extend the fall grazing season for beef cattle.  A one-crop system (annual forage cover crop mix) and a dual-crop system (cereal hay crop/annual cover crop mix) are being tested in a split-plot design with three replicates. The annual forage cover crop used with both cropping systems are the same mixture of species.                                                

Various soil parameters are being analyzed. They are: bulk density (dry weight of soil per unit volume of soil, which includes the solids and the pore space tin the soil); aggregate structure (structural particles in a soil that influence its function); macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium; alkalinity; hydraulic conductivity; total soil organic carbon; and microbial biomass.

In October, mid-gestation beef heifers were turned out for grazing, and Gaugler will be documenting livestock gains. Her project will shed light on soil health and cattle performance under an annual cover crop regime in the Missouri Coteau region of the northern Great Plains.

For more articles on recent studies at CGREC, see our quarterly newsletter, the Central Grassland Forum. 

                                                                                           Erin Gaugler with plot drill at her field trials at CGREC.


Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

4824 48th Ave. SE, Streeter ND 58483         MAP

701-424-3606 / Fax: 701-424-3616



Director: Bryan Neville    bryan.neville@ndsu.edu

Administrative Secretary: Sandi Dewald    sandi.dewald@ndsu.edu

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