In Nebraska, there are approximately 20 M acres of cropland, with corn grain and soybean grown on 75 percent of those acres and wheat grown on six percent. Corn silage and hybrid seed corn are each grown and produced on little over one percent of the cropland acres.
Due to the increased demand for corn and other grains, many acres of perennial grassland have been converted into cropping systems. To increase the efficiency of beef production in Nebraska, improving the use of all forage resources in a sustainable manner is essential.
Integrating cattle production into cropping systems through grazing or harvest of crop residues or producing forage cover crops within grain crop rotations are mechanisms to increase the availability of forage due to the shrinking perennial forage base.
Nebraska farmers produce around 9 M acres of corn each year. This results in 35 M to 40 M tons of corn residue after grain harvest. If all of the corn acres in Nebraska were grazed, 3 M cows could be grazed during the winter for 5 months on the corn residue produced. Since there are only about 1.8 M beef cows, this presents a tremendous opportunity to graze cows and grow spring born calves over the winter. There are large differences in the nutritional quality of different residue plant parts. The leaves and husks have much higher quality than stems and cobs. Utilization of crop residues as a forage resource must be managed properly to insure long term sustainability of the production system.
Forage Cover Crops
The opportunities to incorporate annual forages as a forage cover crop into current cropping systems could increase the supply of high quality forage, while reducing erosion and nutrient leaching.