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Noble Foundation researchers are studying how cover crops could be part of a year-round grazing system that provides economic and environmental benefits to farmers and ranchers.

Noble Foundation research agronomist James Rogers, Ph.D., received a three-year, $155,975 conservation innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service to conduct the research. The grant will support Rogers in determining how much moisture is used and/or conserved by summer cover crops and how those crops impact production of grasses and legumes consumed by livestock (commonly called forages) during the winter months.

Moisture is a key component of crop and forage production. Sufficient moisture levels boost pasture quantity and provide benefits to soil, which ultimately helps farmers and ranchers. “We need to determine whether the cover crops take moisture away from or preserve moisture for winter pasture,” Rogers said. "Preserving moisture will allow for earlier fall production. However, if the cover crops use up the moisture, winter pasture production is limited.”

This research is part of the Noble Foundation’s Forage 365 initiative, which seeks to enable ranchers to extend their grazing season and reduce dependency on hay. The research that comprises Forage 365 includes basic plant science, improved forage variety development and research on management practices.

“As a whole, Forage 365 focuses on four introduced pillar forages: wheat, bermudagrass, tall fescue and alfalfa in order to improve their performance in Southern Great Plains grazing systems,” Rogers said. “Incorporating a cover crop into wheat pasture stocker systems could enhance the system, but it needs to be tested and that is what this grant will help us to do.”