Forage Utilization

An Economic Comparison of Rotational Grazing Systems to Eight Crop Alternatives and the CRP Option for Highly Erodible Land in Southwest Iowa

  • Bill Riley (Rural Economic and Community Development)
  • Chris Nelson (Iowa State University)
  • Daryl Strohbehn (Iowa State University)
  • Russ BreDahl (Iowa State University)
  • Brian Peterson (Natural Resources Conservation Service)
  • Rick Sprague (Natural Resources Conservation Service)


Economic comparisons of income on highly erodible land (HEL) in Adams County were made utilizing five years of grazing data collected from a 13- paddock intensive-rotational grazing system and a four-paddock rotational-grazing system and four years of data collected from an 18-paddock intensive-rotational grazing system, all at the Adams County CRP Research and Demonstration Farm near Corning. Net income from the average grazing weight-gain of Angus-sired calves nursing crossbred cows was compared to the net income from grazing yearling steers, to the net income of eight NRCS-recommended crop rotations, and to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) option. Results of these comparisons show the 13-paddock intensive rotational grazing system with cow-calf pairs to be the most profitable alternative, with a net return of $19.86 per acre per year. The second most profitable alternative is the CRP option, with a net return of $13.09 per acre, and the third most profitable option is the fourpaddock rotation with cows and calves with a net return of $12.53 per acre. An 18-paddock system returned a net income of $2.47 per acre per year with cows and calves in 1993, but lost an average of $107.69 per acre each year in 1994 and 1995 with yearling steers. Each year, the steers were purchased high and sold low, contributing to the large loss per acre. The following recommended crop rotations all show net losses on these 9-14 % slope, Adair-Shelby Complex soils (ApD3): continuous corn; corn-soybean rotation; corn-soybean rotation with a farm program deficiency payment; corn-corn-corn-oats-meadow-meadow rotation with grass headlands; continuous corn to “T” with grass headlands and buffer strips; continuous corn to “T” with grass headlands, buffer strips, and a deficiency payment; corn-corn-oats-meadow rotation to “T”; and corn-soybeans-oats-meadow-meadow-meadow-meadow rotation to “T”. Per-acre yield assumptions of 90 bushels for corn, 30 bushels for soybeans, 45 bushels for oats, and four tons for alfalfa were used, with per-bushel prices of $2.40 on corn, $5.50 on soybeans, and $1.50 on oats. Alfalfa hay was priced at $40.00 per ton and grass hay at $33.33 per ton. The calf weight-gain in the cow/ calf systems was valued at $.90 per pound. All crop expenses except land costs were calculated from ISU publication Fm 1712, “Estimated Costs of Crop Production in Iowa - 1995.” Land costs were determined by using an opportunity cost and actual property tax figures for the land at the grazing site. In preparation for the end of the CRP beginning in 1996, further economic comparisons will be made after additional grazing seasons and data collection. This project is an interagency cooperative effort sponsored by the Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee which has special permission from the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to use CRP land for research and demonstration.

Keywords: ASL R1356

How to Cite:

Riley, B., Nelson, C., Strohbehn, D., BreDahl, R., Peterson, B. & Sprague, R., (1997) “An Economic Comparison of Rotational Grazing Systems to Eight Crop Alternatives and the CRP Option for Highly Erodible Land in Southwest Iowa”, Iowa State University Animal Industry Report 1(1).

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Published on
01 Jan 1997
Peer Reviewed