Episode 181 - Barriers to integrating crops and livestock with Jane Jewett and Bradley J Heins PhD - UMN Extension's The Moos Room

Joe Armstrong: Hey everybody, it's Dr. Joe Armstrong Today, we've got a lot going on. We have a guest up first to talk about a very important survey that she has going on. After that, Bradley's going to join me and we're going to grill him on some of the topics that we're talking about with this survey. Stick around for the second half. Make sure you look up this survey and take it z.umn.edu/matchmadesurvey. z.umn.edu/matchmadesurvey. Thanks, everybody. Let's get to it.
[cow moos]
Joe: Welcome to the Moos Room, everybody. Dr. Joe here. It's just me and a guest today. This is part of a part larger episode where we're going to really grill Bradley about some details of this and his personal experience talking to farmers in this area, but today we have Jane Jewett on today who is the associate director of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. That's a mouthful of a title, but I somehow managed to get it right. Before we get into the topic today, we always have two questions that we ask every guest and those are coming up now, Jane. Jane, are you ready?
Jane Jewett: Yes, I'm ready.
Joe: Here we go. What is your favorite breed of dairy cow?
Jane: Oh, dairy cow. You didn't tell me this was about dairy cows because I grew up with beef cows. Okay, favorite breed of dairy cow-- Guernseys.
Joe: Guernseys. Hey, that changes the order around here. I have to move my list around before I report on where we're at here. That brings the total. Holsteins are at 23, unfortunately, on-top. Jerseys are at 14, which is the correct choice. Brown Swiss at eight. Montb�liarde at three. Dutch Belted at three. Guernseys at three. Normande at two. Milking Shorthorn at one. Ayrshire at one. Then we always give a special shout-out to a Guernsey named Taffy. The question that is probably more fair for you is what is your favorite breed of beef cattle?
Jane: Yes, that's also a hard one. I love all the British breeds, but favorite is Herefords.
Joe: Herefords. Bradley, will be super excited because that is the correct choice for him. I've been waffling on my choice, to be honest, and we might have an update on that where I take my vote and put it somewhere else. For now, Black Angus are on top at 15. Herefords at 11. Black Baldy at four. Scottish Highlander at four. Red Angus at three. Shorthorn at three. Belted Galloway at two. Charolais at two. Then all with one stabilizer, [unintelligible 00:02:59] Brahman, [unintelligible 00:03:00] Jersey, Normande, Belgium Blue, Brangus, Piedmontese, and White Park.
Jane: Well, if I had known that crosses were an option, I would've said the Black Baldies. The Hereford Angus cross is definitely my very, very favorite.
Joe: Perfect. I will switch it back. That'll very much disappoint Bradley, but he'll take half the vote. Everything the same except now Black Baldies are at five, creeping up. Herefords are at 10. Sorry, Bradley, Black Angus is still on top at 15. Now we've got the important stuff out of the way. It's time to actually talk about why we invited Jane to be here today. The overall topic really is that there's barriers to the integration of livestocks and crops. There's a survey that you guys are running right now. Let's start there. Can you tell us a little bit about the survey that you guys are conducting and then we'll get into where it came from and everything else later?
Jane: Yes. Our survey is covering six states, and we are trying to get 3,000 farmers to respond total from the states of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri. We are looking for farmers who raise crops only and farmers who currently raise both livestock and crops. We're including forages and pasture as crops. Livestock farmers who graze or make hay are included in that crop plus livestock category. Then we are also asking farmers who raise only crops if they have ever had livestock in the past, and if they have what prompted them to get out of it.
Then we are asking farmers who have never had livestock in the past, what the reasons are for that. Then we also have a pathway through the survey for folks who may have livestock only with no crops, which sounds like it wouldn't be possible if we're counting pasture and forage as crops. Actually, there are a growing number of people who have especially small ruminants like sheep or goats that they keep on very small acreage and rent out for brush control, invasive species control, that sort of thing. They actually have livestock only and don't raise crops.
Joe: We're going to talk a little bit more about the survey itself, but before we do, where did this start? Give me the background on why you're asking and trying to get so many farmers to respond. Where did this idea come from? Who's behind it? All of those things.
Jane: Sure. The other entity that I work with and for is Green Lands Blue Waters. It's actually housed within the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in the university system. Green Lands Blue Waters is a multi-state research and education consortium around promoting continuous living cover in agriculture and improving agricultural performance, both in terms of profitability for the farmer and environmental performance. Green Lands Blue Waters includes a working group called the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group. It consists mainly of grazing educators across the states that I mentioned earlier.
These are folks who work directly with farmers. Some of them are NRCS staff grazing specialists. Some of them are Extension. Some of them are non-profit staff who focus on grazing in their work. They all have their boots on the ground regularly and see farms. We have some really great discussions about what's the best approach. What's the best way to get people interested in grazing? These are extremely pragmatic, non-ideological people.
One of the things that has come up in the conversations is that some of the more environmental organizations emphasis on grass-fed beef can be counterproductive when we're trying to increase the amount of land in perennial forage because there are very few farmers who are actually prepared to convert all of their crop acres into perennial forage and establish a 100% rotational grazing system and just go all the way down that grass fed road.
That has been a topic of conversation for a long time that we need to look at pragmatic, practical ways to integrate more livestock that meet farmers where they are and work with what they've got and what they know and try to introduce a few additional practices that can lead towards grazing and livestock integration without presenting it as this all or nothing 100% grass-fed or you're doomed type of thing.
At a certain point, the conversations bubbled up to where they said, "Well, we should really get a grant and try to pursue this and figure out what the farmers really need from educators to be able to move livestock integration forward." A lot of the time we're just guessing, what's going to work? What sort of presentation is going to move people? What kinds of things are they going to view as useful? Maybe we should ask them.
Joe: I really appreciate how practical this is and I really, really like that this isn't something that's all or none, which is, like you said, how it is presented in some cases. When you look at some of the environmental groups or anything like that, it's that there is no in-between that benefits both. I think that's the thing we're missing is that there is a great in-between where you can meld these two and it does benefit both the environment and potentially the operation, the cattle operation, the livestock operation itself, because of all the things that go with that in terms of cost reductions and things like that. I think there's a lot here that needs to be talked about. This compromise is definitely sitting there and waiting to happen.
Jane: Yes. Not just benefit the livestock side, but also benefit the crop side because if you get livestock present on the land, then you have a manure resource. In the grazing group, we really like to talk about manure as a resource and not a problem. Once you have manure present in a place, you can apply that to cropland, whether it's the animals themselves applying it, or using equipment to apply it. That manure resource truly is a resource to reduce fertilizer input costs too.
Joe: We've talked about the survey. You briefly touched on what the end goal is. Let's specifically talk about, after you've got all these answers, what is the data going to be used for in the end?
Jane: When I say we've got a lot of questions, it is a lot, but we've also structured it so that the survey flows pretty smoothly. We've heard from farmers, it takes them about 15 minutes to take it, so it's definitely not the egg census. We tried really hard to make it not the egg census. What we're hoping to be able to use the results for is to really inform educators, because this perennial forage working group is made of educators and they really look at, what can we do that supports other grazing educators?
The idea is to get some data behind what educators might do to craft their programs when they're working with farmers. What are the areas that farmers particularly identify as barriers? Can we specifically address those? If there isn't a fix by education, if it needs to be policy or technology, then can we identify those things? When barriers are addressed, is that going to be a technology fix, an education fix, a policy fix, some combination of that?
We'll also be looking at the experiences of people who are already integrating crops and livestock, and looking at what they say about what's hard about it, what's challenging about it, what's really good about it. Trying to push that information out to educators across that six-state area and say, "Here are the positives that you can emphasize, and here are the things that people say work well. Let's transmit that more broadly than it has been perhaps. Here are the things that people who are doing it even successfully found really challenging when they were getting started." That's what we're hoping, is to have a pretty rich set of information that educators can use to hone their programs and hone their messages.
Joe: I'm biased, but I always appreciate work that helps me do my job as an educator. It is nice to go into it with a tool set that's built and ready to go and you know where you're going with it and the end goal and all of that. As we talked about, there's not really a better way to do that than to just ask the farmers what they need.
That's exactly what this survey does, is walks through what's happening in the industry right now, what needs to happen going forward, and gives the farmers a voice in how to have that happen going forward. I really appreciate the work you guys are doing with this. It's a great opportunity for people to be heard on what needs to happen moving forward to make this a reality. I think we'll cut it there and we'll continue this conversation with Bradley and pick his brain a little bit more. We'll grill him instead of grilling Jane, about all the details and the logistics of getting cows places and things like that. Jane, I really appreciate you being on today. It's a really valuable time and this is a great opportunity for farmers.
Jane: Thanks so much for the opportunity. I would love to talk about cows and grazing all day long if allowed. Thanks.
Joe: Welcome back to the Moos Room. I know you just finished hearing from me and now we're on to a more important person, Bradley, who's going to lead most of this discussion. We got an intro to this topic a little bit, on the barriers of the integration of livestock and crops from Jane. I think really, what we're looking for, and as promised, we're going to grill Bradley. We're going to get down to his thoughts on the topic and stay as always on the applied practical side and let everyone else sort out all the big details on the policy things later. We'll talk about our opinions and see what Bradley has to say on the subject. Brad, I know you're excited to talk about this, but you've talked about this a lot.
Bradley Heins: It's an interesting topic, and there's always people asking questions about integrating crops and livestock and how to do it, what seed you should plant, what kind of animals you can graze. Can you graze it? Can you harvest it for forage? I think there's just so many different options. Maybe that's what causes a little bit of confusion with people, is trying to figure out with you have all these options, which just leads to a little confusion on people's part about, "Oh, man, this sounds complicated." I don't think it has to be complicated at all.
Joe: That's a good point, Bradley, and I hadn't really thought about that. I think each individual piece or each individual option isn't all that complicated, like you said, but when you have that many options, it certainly starts to sound that way. Anytime you throw around the buzzwords of cover crops, people get a little shy about, "That sounds complicated, that process." Integration of livestock and crops, I don't think, like you said, has to be that complicated. There's a lot of things that can be simple about it. I think people do tend to over-complicate the issue.
Bradley: I'm more of the simplistic one. People ask me a lot of questions about it. We talk about cover crops for cattle and what can we do. I want to keep it simple to make it easy for the farmer. We did a project in 2016 where we had two different kinds of cover crops. We had winter rye and winter wheat. We planted them in the fall of 2015 with our hopes of grazing them early in the spring of 2016, which we did. We started grazing them in April of 2016.
We wanted to keep it simple. That's why we used winter rye and winter wheat. A lot of people talk about you should put five mixes together or 12 mixes together because it helps with soil fertility and all of that, which is maybe fine. We're not sure what happens on a soil fertility basis if you mix 12 species together. The problem is that 12 species mixed all together, that's pretty costly from a seed standpoint, so you have to think about economics. It can be complicated when you've got a lot of different species together. We can debate whether you have 1, or 5, or 12, or whatever, but I'm more of the simplistic one. Let's pick a species and keep with it. That's why we do a lot of winter rye stuff. It's easy.
Joe: Anyway, you can just keep it as simple as possible, it's definitely worth it. You mentioned some of this stuff you're talking about you planted in the fall of 2015 knowing you're going to graze in the spring of 2016. To me, that's a big barrier that I see, is just having the ability to plan ahead. As we know, in farming, seasons sneak up on you real quick. If you're not really looking ahead and several steps down the road, you can get behind pretty quickly.
Bradley: If you're thinking about grazing, say, winter rye, like we did in the spring, you have to plant that in mid-August to give it some chance to grow in the fall so you get a good jump in the spring. If you're planting mid-August, you probably want to think about seeding mid-July and you got to get seed. Eight months, maybe nine months before you're actually going to harvest that for feed or graze that, that you have to be thinking about planting this.
I agree. That's maybe a barrier, is sometimes we get stuck and we don't want to think about nine months later, but with this stuff, you certainly do. That's when using the winter cover crops. If you're thinking about other different kind of cover crops, fall grazing is a different process, if you want to plant something for fall grazing.
We're thinking about that now at our research center. Can we plant some oats and turnips for October grazing or early November grazing? We're thinking about that now because we're going to plant that here in third week of August or the end of August to, hopefully, get some growth that we can graze it in mid-November. There's a little bit of thought process there. Maybe not as much as you do with the winters, but you still want to be thinking about it a month or two beforehand, so you don't get caught and go, "Oh, man, I ran out of feed," or, "This pasture isn't working," or, "We need to do something different." I know in farming, nobody sometimes likes to think about a few months out, but in a lot of these situations, you certainly have to think about it a few months beforehand.
Joe: One of the simplest forms of crop and livestock integration, and probably one of the most common is grazing crop residues. Now, I think that's pretty well understood, especially in Minnesota because we do it so often. One of the major barriers that I hear for that specific situation is fence. It can still be the simplest scenario, but there's still a major barrier when it comes to fence. Fence is expensive.
Bradley: Yes. It certainly depends on where you're going to, say, graze animals. If you're going to do it in an existing pasture that you already have that has some fence around it, it makes it a little bit easier. Sometimes you want to graze a different field, say a crop field, or to get a different process going. That takes a little bit. You have to have labor to put up the fence. Depends on what type of animals you have. Dairy heifers or dairy cows, maybe a little bit different than beef cows as far as fencing needs. Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes we can argue one wire works just as well and maybe a dairy animal needs two wires. [laughs] It all depends.
Yes, fencing is certainly an issue and we're thinking about that now. One of our examples, it's like, oh, let's try and graze this one field with some oats and turnips, but we don't have a permanent fence around it, so what do we do? If we go out there with some T posts and make a fence that works temporarily for us. All labor issues and-- I know that can be a problem, or a challenge on farms with labor. Fencing is one of those things that you have to consider.
Joe: This brings up the perfect opportunity to go on a little tangent and because Brad's here and we're talking technology, we're talking fence, set him up for being able to talk about some technology here. Virtual fence, we hear about it a lot. I have yet to see it in person, in practice. I'm sure there's plenty of people using it or attempting to use it, but what do you know about that side of things, Brad?
Bradley: It's the new technology. Growing technology is virtual fencing. A lot of it is you put a collar around an animal and have this boundary and they're not supposed to go outside of that boundary. I've seen it in a few places on a small scale, not large. It's always tough when you see new technologies. Will it work? How expensive they are. We know that new technologies are really expensive. Is a virtual fence better than a permanent fence? I don't know.
We do not have virtual fence here. I'd like to try it and see what happens. If anybody wants to work with me and we can figure this out, certainly we will. I think that's one to watch in the future is virtual fencing. I think it's going to only improve in the future. I think the verdict is still out there. A lot of people are unsure. It's one of those-- it's a fear factor. Can I put an animal on a piece of land with no fence around it and just hope that it stays in?
Joe: Yes, it makes me very, very, very nervous. I haven't been able to work with it, so I'm hoping Brad gets it as well so that we can learn about it together. Personally, anytime there's that kind of technology involved in any way, I have a hard time trusting it as a perimeter fence. If you want to use it as a cross fencing or to strip graze or whatever you want to do on that front, I'm much more comfortable with that. Without having an actual permanent perimeter fence, it makes me super nervous maybe that those nerves are unfounded. Man, liability-wise, it makes me very, very nervous.
Bradley: Yes, I just don't know enough about it yet to say whether it will work or not work or I just don't know. I don't really know. It'll be interesting to see how that works. There are a few places that I know of that are trying it in beef cows. I'm not quite sure any places that are doing it with dairy, but it would be interesting and I'm certainly interested in doing that and trying to figure that out.
Joe: All right, well on this episode we've covered a lot. We heard about the survey that's going on so we can get information from farmers that are either doing these practices now, have done them in the past, or considering them in the future. We want to hear from you, so please make sure to go to z.umn.edu/matchmadesurvey. Take that survey, takes about 15 minutes. We want to hear from you on that. Any final thoughts, Brad?
Bradley: I think just keep it simple. That's one thing that we have to think about is it is not difficult for integrating crops and livestock if we just keep it simple. That's my word of advice.
Joe: With that. If you have comments, questions, scathing rebuttals, those go to the themoosroom@umn.edu. That's T-H-E-M-O-O-S-R-O-O-M@umn.edu. Check us out on Twitter @UMNmoosroom and @UMNFarmSafety. Check Bradley out on Instagram at @umnwcrocdairy. We'll call it there for plugs. Thank you everybody for listening. We will catch you next week.
Bradley: Bye. Bye.
Joe: Hey everybody, I'm just here to remind you that it's really important you go take that survey about how we can better educate people on crop and livestock integration. Really appreciate you doing that. Go to z.umn.edu/matchmadesurvey. z.umn.edu/matchmadesurvey. Thanks, everybody.
[00:26:45] [END OF AUDIO]

Episode 181 - Barriers to integrating crops and livestock with Jane Jewett and Bradley J Heins PhD - UMN Extension's The Moos Room
Broadcast by