With so many acres under water and unplantable this year, livestock producers are starting to become concerned about forage options later in the fall and winter. While forage mixes are an excellent choice for those growers, there is another option that can and should be considered, experts say: adding polycultures to the crop rotation.
Since 2013, a group of Canadian researchers with Swift Current Research and Development Centre in Saskatchewan have begun looking into the best polyculture cover cropping mixtures to plant as forage to improve crop yield, soil organic matter, moisture retention, weed control, and improve nutrients. Polyculture covers are also known as multi-species or cocktail mixture planting — the intentional co-planting of multiple plant species in the same field.
It just makes sense that many of these mixtures combine annual forage crops that include both cool- and warm-season grasses, along with legumes and brassicas like radish and turnips — all of which are excellent forage sources for livestock.
But over the past 6 years, the researchers have found certain polycultures can also increase biomass by more than 20%, while reducing weeds by more than 50% and maintaining crop productivity.
In addition, using polyculture mixtures can increase forage nutrition as well as quality, with more protein and higher digestibility.
For those livestock producers looking to make their feedstuffs last through the winter, it may be worth it to explore multi-species cover crops and how to make them work in your crop rotation.