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Breaking the cornstalk grazing myths 148001

Twenty years of UNL research shows a potential soybean yield increase following cornstalk grazing.

Curt Arens

December 2, 2016

2 Min Read
GRAZING IS WIN-WIN: Cattle producers need winter feedstuffs and crop producers can actually gain in soybean yields following grazing of cornstalks, according to UNL long-term research.

About 20 years of University of Nebraska research shows that cornstalk grazing can actually increase soybean yields the following year, and has little or no impact on corn crops. While there is still resistance to grazing cornstalks by some landowners because of the potential for compaction from cattle or loss of organic matter, research doesn't back up the myth.

"A long-term study at Mead, Neb., showed slight improvements of 2 to 3 bushels per acre in soybean production following grazing of corn residue when managed in a corn-soybean rotation," says Nebraska Extension beef systems specialist Mary Drewnoski. "This result was the same regardless of whether cattle were grazed in the fall or the spring."

In another UNL study at Brule, Neb., corn yields were measured over a five-year period after cows were grazed during the fall in a field that was maintained in a continuous corn system. "No effect on subsequent corn yields was observed," Drewnoski says. "Additionally, four other sites in the eastern half of Nebraska that were managed in continuous corn have been tested for the last two years, with each of these sites showing similar results with yields not being different for grazed and non-grazed cornstalks."

Drewnoski maintains that grazing cornstalks is a win-win situation for crop and cattle producers. "Crop producers can get extra income without negatively affecting subsequent crop yields and in some cases, improving crop yields," she explains.

"Some farmers are concerned that grazing will result in removal in nutrients or loss in organic matter," Drewnoski adds. "However, after long-term grazing of 18 years, soil organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium was not different from non-grazed areas, suggesting there is no loss in nutrients due to grazing."

You can learn more about cornstalk grazing by contacting Drewnoski at 402-472-6289 or go online to beef.unl.edu/cropland.


About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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