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Integrating sheep grazing into wheat–fallow systems: Crop yield and soil properties

Andrew W. Lenssen, Upendra M. Sainju, Patrick G. Hatfield
Field crops research 2013 v.146 pp. 75-85
Triticum aestivum, bulk density, calcium, crop residues, crop rotation, electrical conductivity, fallow, farms, grain yield, grazing, nitrate nitrogen, no-tillage, pesticide application, sheep, sodium, soil water content, spring wheat, sulfates, summer, volunteer plants, weed control, weeds, winter wheat, Montana
The two predominant systems for weed management in summer fallow are tillage with a field cultivator or multiple applications of broad spectrum herbicides with zero tillage. Both systems are based on substantial use of off farm resources. Our objective was to determine if strategic grazing of sheep may allow grain growers to more sustainably manage crop residues, volunteer crop, and other weeds during fallow periods. We conducted a study near Bozeman, Montana, USA, comparing three fallow weed management systems in two crop rotations from 2005 to 2008. Fallow weed management systems were conventional tillage, chemical-fallow (herbicide application), and sheep grazing. The crop rotations were summer fallow–spring wheat and summer fallow–winter wheat. In late fall, chemical-fallow treatment had greater residue cover and soil water content than did tilled- or grazed-fallow. At 0–15-cm depth, soil had lower bulk density in chemical- and tilled-fallow than in grazed fallow. Similarly, soil NO3-N, Ca, SO4-S concentrations and EC were lower following grazed-fallow than tilled-fallow, but Na concentration was higher following grazed-fallow than tilled- or chemical-fallow. Following spring and winter wheat, soil properties were not influenced by treatments. Grain yield was greater in winter wheat than in spring wheat but the trend reversed in protein concentration. Although soil properties varied among treatments, fallow management system had little influence on yield or quality of spring and winter wheat. Sheep grazing during fallow periods had limited impact on subsequent wheat yield and quality, and is a suitable practice for weed and residue management in wheat–fallow systems.