Researchers are looking into the benefits that livestock grazing presents for organic farming systems. The project is being made possible by a nearly $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Multistate Program grant. The impact of sheep grazing on cover crops will be studied to determine the effect it may have on soil health and bacterial population dynamics.
“This project is going to look at integrating livestock in cover crop systems, specifically in farms that they are producing fresh produce,” said Alda Pires, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principle investigator in the study. “We have three states involved with the project and that will allow us to look at integration of livestock in cover cropping under difference conditions geographically, and management conditions.”
The collaborative research effort will include partners such as The Organic Center, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the University of Minnesota and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The project has two main objectives. “One is on soil quality and soil health and looking at benefits in terms of for the vegetable production and the other one is looking at the potential survival of food borne pathogens in the soil with integration of cover crops-livestock in fresh produce production,” Pires noted.
Previous livestock grazing studies have demonstrated that the practice can have a positive impact on yield and soil health. The current research builds on previous work looking at integrated crop-animal systems and how that affects pathogen exposure. The study will take the research one step further in discerning whether the practice presents any potential issues as it relates to fresh produce.
“There are some concerns in terms of food safety since you are having manure from the sheep when they grazing that’s not treated,” Pires explained. “Here we’re going to look at how the survival and persistence of potential foodborne pathogens on that sheep in the soil and potential transfer to fresh produce.”