Utilizing Late Season Cover Crops to Extend the Grazing Season

Fields of bright green rye stand out among the mostly brown early spring fieldscape on Luke Hiebert’s crop and livestock farm northeast of Huron, South Dakota. 

“Traditionally, at this point in the season, nothing would be growing out in those fields. This is the reason I decided to plant rye,” said Hiebert, during an early April conversation. “It has been growing since last fall, and I like having a living root in the soil as long as possible. It helps with compaction, reduces erosion, increases water infiltration, builds organic matter and overall, improves soil health.” 

Hiebert is enrolled in the Covering America Program through our SustainAg Network. One of USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodity projects, this program supports farmers, as they implement holistic management techniques and soil health protocols. The program provides a premium for the sustainably grown rye – while also helping cover the costs associated with the late season, multi-species cover crop he plans to plant on the same acres for his cattle and sheep to graze late fall. Our Technical Advisors provide expert guidance throughout the process. 

“I and my wife, Briana are the third family trying to earn an income from this farm, so I need to look at value added opportunities because this farm is not large enough to support all of us,” explained the third-generation farmer who has been farming fulltime with his dad and uncle since he was 18. 

For nearly a decade, Hiebert has been working to expand his cow/calf herd by increasing on-farm access to forage by implementing an intensive, daily grazing rotation. Extending the grazing season with a late season cover crop is yet another way for him to maximize the farm’s forage production. 

Hiebert is among 278 producers from across the U.S. who make up AgSpire’s newly formed SustainAg Network of farmers and ranchers interested in adopting sustainable land and livestock management practices through programs like Covering America.  

South Dakota farmer poses in a rye field - which he planted to help improve his land during the winter months.

Hiebert said knowing that there is financial and technical help planting a late season cover crop motivated him to join The SustainAg Network and enroll in the Covering America Program. 

“I had been thinking about planting a late season cover crop, but I knew it would be more difficult to get it going and I was not ready to invest in the risk,” Hiebert said. “With SustainAg Network, I have financial assistance, and because I don’t have a lot of experience planting cover crops, I appreciate the fact I also have access to a Technical Advisor.” 

By Lura Roti for AgSpire

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About AgSpire

AgSpire provides customized solutions for those who want to create positive land-use outcomes. The organization was founded in 2021 from the passion to amplify the implementation of positive land use practices, resulting in tangible and quantifiable outcomes for the environment and our society. AgSpire specializes in strategy and implementation of regenerative agriculture solutions for clients in the food, agricultural, and natural resource space and solves for an increasingly complex agricultural landscape in need of balanced short-term efficiency and long-term viability.