AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Sustainability is big business in the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Agricultural researchers are constantly looking for new and improved ways for livestock and crop producers to better their operations. Thanks to a recently awarded $380,000 grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, this work will continue.
Leanne Dillard, an Alabama Extension forage specialist, and a team of other Extension and university professionals will use this grant to research how farmers can combine livestock and cover-crop systems as a means to improve profitability and sustainability in their operations.
“With this grant, we can continue to provide environmentally sound solutions for integrated crop and livestock systems in the Southeast,” Dillard said. “These solutions will provide economic incentives to producers without reducing the soil-health benefits of cover crops.”
In addition to researchers from Alabama Extension and Auburn University, the research team also includes professionals from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
A new look at cover crops
Through this three-year research study, the team will look to emphasize how the integration of livestock and cover-crop systems can favorably impact the ecosystem and profitability within an operation. The use of cover crops is not a new idea to Alabama farmers. In fact, an Alabama Extension economist reports that Alabama increased its total cropland in cover crops by 27,739 acres between 2012 and 2017. However, Dillard said there have been few studies that looked at the impacts an integrated cover-crop system could have.
“There are some studies that have investigated the effect of cover crops on cash-crop production, soil and water quality and environmental impacts,” Dillard said. “However, little has been done to investigate the effect of intercropping and grazing multi-species cover crops on the whole cropping system. We are looking to change that through this study.”
Becky Barlow, the Alabama Extension assistant director for agriculture, forestry and natural resource programming, said the work that Dillard and this team are doing is important for the future of Extension.
“We are incredibly proud of Dr. Dillard and are fortunate to have her as part of the Alabama Extension team,” Barlow said. “She has quickly developed a prominent Extension and research program in forage systems. I am always impressed by her willingness to learn new skills and improve her knowledge to better serve the residents of Alabama.”
Over the next three years, the project team will be posting updates and educational materials related to the study to www.AlabamaForages.com and on the Alabama Cooperative Extension Forage Focus Program Facebook page.