Connecting Livestock and Crops in the Corn Belt

A regional project “Match Made In Heaven: Livestock + Crops” is surveying farmers in six states to learn about a growing movement to reintegrate crop and livestock systems in the corn belt.

“We invite farmers to fill out the survey and help us understand the opportunities and barriers related to these integrated systems,” said Amy Fenn, the project’s coordinator. “The survey will be used to identify strategies for capturing the environmental, economic, and social benefits of integrated systems and share this information with partners across the region.“

Farming practices that integrate crops and livestock, such as grazing cover crops or crop residue, can create mutual benefits on both the crop and livestock sides. Crop enterprises can save on fertilizer costs, break pest and disease cycles, add soil organic matter, market their cover crop as forages, and potentially receive ecosystem service credits; while livestock enterprises can use cover crops and crop residue to stretch the grazing season into winter.

“A key feature of crop and livestock integration is that the same farmer need not do all the work to make it happen,” said co-director Laura Paine. “There is huge potential for partnerships between crop producers, livestock producers, and custom operators.”

Beginning farmers can begin their farming careers with lower capital investment by partnering with other farmers.

“Match Made In Heaven: Livestock + Crops” is a collaboration of over 50 groups in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa,
Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

“The project recognizes that gathering the resources and knowledge needed for successful crop/livestock integration must be a collaboration between different areas of expertise, and we’ve designed the project to begin building those mutually beneficial partnerships,” said Jane Jewett, project co-director.

Participating organizations include crop and livestock associations, state and federal agencies, universities, soil and water groups, and farmers who have successfully integrated crops and livestock in their operations. The project is funded through a SARE grant developed by Green Lands Blue Waters at the University of Minnesota.

Earlier this year the project released an infographic depicting integration of livestock and crops at a glance, highlighting some of the many benefits and challenges, and suggesting a few places to start.

“We’re trying to build conversation around integration, we invite people to download the infographic and add their own local contact information in the space provided,” said Jewett. “Our hope is that it will be shared widely!”

The collaborative group is seeking additional partners to help distribute the survey. A publicity toolkit is available with pre-written social media posts and other outreach materials. Interested groups can contact the Match Made In Heaven Project Outreach Coordinator Amy Fenn at fennsfolly@gmail.com.

Farmers interested in participating in the survey can find it online at https://z.umn.edu/MatchMadeSurvey.