A new $1 million USDA grant will explore the benefits of livestock grazing of cover crops, which could be beneficial for organic systems, said The Organic Center (TOC), which operates under the administrative auspices of the Organic Trade Association.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture is the grant recipient for the project, which, along with the TOC, also includes the University of California, Davis, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and the University of Minnesota.
“Many growers consider livestock grazing of cover‐cropped fields in fresh produce operations as a way to enhance soil health and environmental benefits by increasing carbon inputs and nutrient cycling,” said a synopsis of the project. “However, recent concerns about microbial food safety are limiting expansion of this practice because livestock grazing may introduce fecal‐borne foodborne pathogens into soil with a potential for transfer to harvested produce that will be consumed raw or minimally processed by consumers.”
“This study will allow farmers to complement the benefits of both cover cropping and livestock integration into cropping systems,” said Jessica Shade, TOC’s director of science programs. “Like cover cropping, integrating animals into cropping systems can be beneficial to farm environmental impacts and profitability by improving nutrient cycling, reducing dependence on external inputs, improving soil health, and diversifying profit streams.”
The project’s researchers will measure changes in soil health indicators over two years of grazed cover crop-vegetable production, and assess benefits and potential tradeoffs of vegetable cash crop productivity.