What happens when Florida’s top crops have been harvested and the fields are bare? Instead of taking a much-needed break, many farmers stay busy planting cover crops, which protect and enrich the soil while also providing food for livestock. Cover crops play an especially important role in the winter pastures of North Central Florida.
“Rye, oats and legumes like crimson clover are planted usually in late October or November, and they are grazed during the winter months,” says Dr. David Wright, a professor of agronomy at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center. “That’s what cattle producers depend on for feed in the winter months, from November through March, before the summer grasses really start growing again. In North Florida, a lot of the row crop land is planted with oats or rye for winter feed after farmers harvest cotton or peanuts in October.”
TK Moseley Farms
In addition to enriching soil and feeding cattle, cover crops help manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water and weeds. At TK Moseley Farms in Columbia County, winter pasture crops help Troy and Katrina Moseley keep their 200-plus cattle healthy year round.
“We typically plant ryegrass or a rye-oat mix in some of our pastures in November or December,” Katrina Moseley says. “Rye is more cold-tolerant than oats, and oats are very palatable to cattle.”
Their cows typically calve from November through late spring, so it’s essential the cows get the most nutrients possible while pregnant and nursing calves, which happens to be the time of year when the grass has the least amount of nutrients.
“Supplementing with hay, grain and winter pasture crops allows us to keep our cattle in good body condition and able to nurse and grow calves without creating body condition concerns,” Moseley says.
The Moseleys grow 200 acres of Bahia grass they put in round rolls each year to supplement their cattle’s diet during winter. Preparing their land for winter is a yearlong process.
“We must protect our natural resources in order to be successful. Our goal is to leave our land better than we found it.”
– Katrina Moseley, Columbia County farmer
“We implement rotational grazing of our pastures,” Moseley says. “This is key because it allows different pastures the ability to rest, grow and recover from the cattle grazing. We also fertilize our pastures as needed. Soil samples are taken and analyzed to determine what we may need to apply.”
TK Moseley Farms is committed to following Best Management Practices (BMPs), which are cost-effective and practical methods agriculture producers can utilize to help conserve water and reduce the amount of nutrients (caused by animal waste and fertilizer) as well as other pollutants entering our water source.
“BMPs should benefit water quality and conservation while enhancing or maintaining agricultural production,” Moseley explains. “There are BMPs for a wide variety of commodities, from cattle and equine to poultry and sod. It’s important to understand each commodity may require different BMPs.”
For cow-calf operations like the Moseleys’, BMPs include maintaining adequate vegetative cover, planning feeding and watering sites, planning holding areas, minimizing off-site discharge, minimizing erosion, managing nutrients properly and water reduction strategies, as well as developing conservation plans and training employees.
After implementing BMPs on their farm, the Moseleys were awarded a 2019 CARES designation by the Florida Farm Bureau Federation for their dedication to being outstanding environmental stewards.
“Caring for our environment is incredibly important to us,” Moseley says. “We must protect our natural resources in order to be a successful operation. Our goal is to leave our land better than we found it.”
Southern Pioneer Farms
The Carpenter family in Madison County also uses BMPs on their 900-acre farm for water conservation and water quality improvements. Operated by Buck and NoraBeth Carpenter and their three children, Southern Pioneer Farms LLC grows high-quality perennial peanut hay and small grains. Like the Moseleys, the Carpenters prepare their fields for winter by planting cover crops.
“Cover crops help us capture and reuse nutrients that might be present as the summertime crop goes into dormancy,” Buck Carpenter says. “This winter cover crop allows us to control weed populations as well and to aerate the soil, encouraging soil microbiology to flourish.”
BMPs at Southern Pioneer Farms include precision nutrient application, precision timing on fertilizer applications, and perpetual ground cover, to name a few.
“BMPs are important for the future of our farm because they ensure we have a safe, abundant water supply both at the present time and down the road when we are going to need it most,” Carpenter says.
Another way the Carpenter family cares for the environment is through reduced nitrogen demand on their crop.
“In North Florida, the nutrient of concern is nitrogen in our groundwater levels,” Carpenter explains. “By incorporating BMPs, we are able to reduce our nitrogen footprint and are better able to utilize the fertilizers we apply.”
The Carpenters were also awarded a 2019 CARES designation from the Florida Farm Bureau Federation for their dedication to protecting water quality and natural resources.
“Focusing on natural resources conservation is important at Southern Pioneer Farms, as it ensures our farm’s legacy will continue in the future,” Carpenter says. “With American agriculture facing unprecedented challenges, we need to make sure we are doing the best we can at our job. We feel we are called by our creator to be good stewards of the land he has given us. We look forward to passing this farm down to future generations.”