Cattle Grazing in Cover Crops in Southern Minnesota

Southern Minnesota farmer Tom Cotter has been utilizing cover crops for over 20 years and is a firm believer in the holistic contribution cover crops make to his farming operation.  The benefits for him recently compounded when he began interseeding into V6 corn and allowing for different cover crops in conjunction with his soybean and corn rotations instead of the standard winter rye.  Species utilized in Tom’s operation include sorghum-sudangrass, pearl millet, berseem clover, Mihi clover, and common vetch.  These cover crops (especially the sorghum) have kept his soils moist even in prolonged periods of high temperatures.  When discussing moisture management on his farm, Tom has observed that reduced tillage practices have increased his infiltration rates, and he believes he may be getting better drainage than tiling would achieve in areas using cover crops.


Weed suppression was the primary reason Tom started cover cropping, and over the years he has moved into using no pre-emergent herbicides on soybeans and no post spray herbicides on sweet corn when using cereal rye for his cover crop.  Increased profitability has gone hand in hand as Tom’s use of cover crops increased.  Reduced disease pressure, better water management, and lower fertilization requirements have all lowered costs on Tom’s farm while maintaining steady yields.  Additionally, it’s been less labor-intensive when using cover crops.  For Tom, cover crops can be seeded at a rate of 30 to 40 ac an hour compared to a tillage rate of 10 ac an hour. With high fuel costs and the costs of labor, the savings on seeding operations can be substantial.  Additionally, insecticides and fungicides aren’t necessary for Tom’s farming operation with beneficial insect populations managing themselves.


Growing cover crops has also allowed Tom to transition to grass-fed cattle and reap the premiums associated with grass-fed/organic sales.  Diversity is key to managing cattle on cover crops and a plan for where the animals can be grazing throughout the year should be in place to realize the maximum benefits of incorporating cover crops into a farming operation.  The benefits are well worth it though.  Tom has observed lower death rates at birth and an overall more naturally resilient and healthier herd has been a result of the reduced time spent in pens.  At this point, Tom has gotten to a point where he doesn’t need to feed corn or silage to his animals either.  Running fences and letting cattle out on the cover crops has also meant he doesn’t need to haul cattle to pasture and both the manure and the saliva from the animals provide benefits towards boosting microbe activity in the soils.  Of note, the utilization of brassicas has created additional benefits.  Toms animals can get most of their moisture requirements met simply by grazing on the cover crops even in warm weather.

Prevented Plant

Prevented Plant

What Comes Next?

Prevented planting should not be a lost opportunity to plant a cash crop, but rather the perfect opportunity to explore options that may not have been present in other planting years.  Here are a few ways steps to capitalize on a prevented planting situation and strengthen your farming operation.

Don’t Go Fallow

Like your best horse, your fields like to work.  Despite always being up for the challenge, delivering crops season after season, it may be time to give your ground a break.  Resting soil does not mean not planting anything, but slightly changing the type of work, it is tasked to do.  Just like when people do a repetitive task over and over, a simple change in crop species can be all that’s needed to rejuvenate and reinvigorate.  We, of course, suggest planting cover crops to avoid Fallow Syndrome and strengthen subsequent plantings/yields.

About Fallow Syndrome

Fallow Syndrome is the result of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae fungi population declines.  These fungi have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of your crops to assist in nutrient uptakes, including Phosphorus and Zinc, to name two.  Corn is just one of many crops dependent on this symbiotic relationship.

Occurrence of Fallow Syndrome

Fallow Syndrome symptoms are observed to be more pronounced in seasons with colder, wet conditions.

Avoidance of Fallow Syndrome

Conduct a soil test at the start and end of a prevented plant in to get an idea of the effects if a field is left fallow.  Phosphorus is a notably vital nutrient in determining the presence of fallow syndrome symptoms.  The levels of phosphorus can also assist in making cover crop species decisions on sequestering phosphorus for subsequent crops.  Fields suffering Fallow Syndrome have no proven corrective recommendations and gives a further reason not to go fallow even when a prevented plant situation occurs.  Fallow Syndrome symptoms and effects can show up for up to two years after leaving the ground fallow.

Contact Your Crop Insurance Agent

Your insurance agent will be able to tell you what is and isn’t possible within the limits of your policy.  Dates that you can plant an alternative crop, how it might affect your yield history, and how it might affect any insurance payments are all items of concern that your crop insurance agent is best suited to assist you with.

Contact Your Local Bio Till Cover Crop Expert

Your Bio Till Cover Crop Expert will be able to help you select an alternative crop to plant that will work with your farming operation.  Even though a cover crop isn’t a cash crop doesn’t mean that it’s not a crop requiring some of the same considerations a cash crop requires for maximizing contributions to the soil health of prevented planted acres.  Herbicides utilized in previous plantings along with plans for subsequent crops will affect the number of successful options available to your operation.

Ron Althoff
Ron AlthoffBio Till Cover Crop Expert
TJ Kartes
TJ KartesBio Till Cover Crop Expert
Wade Culver
Wade CulverBio Till Cover Crop Expert
Brian Wieland
Brian WielandBio Till Cover Crop Expert


Multi-species cover corp mixtures present a holistic approach to enhancing the soils on a farming operation and should be used instead of a single species planting whenever possible.

2021-04-22T14:21:15-07:00Categories: Planting|