North Dakota agricultural producers can get help diversifying their operations and improving soil health. Ducks Unlimited and its partners worked with producers in southeastern North Dakota to build a simple, useful program called Cover Crop and Livestock Integration Project (CCLIP). CLLIP provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to add sustainable, mixed-operation practices.

"Integrating livestock on small grain and row crop farmland is incredibly beneficial. Grazing and hoof action stimulate plant root growth and livestock manure enhances nutrient cycling. Cover crops provide great forage for livestock," said Tanner Gue, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist.Gue says cover crops suppress weeds, crop pests and disease. They also increase the soil's ability to hold water that reduces surface runoff and sedimentation in wetlands, streams and rivers.

Conventional farming operations in North Dakota make use of land only for the spring and summer months. This method leaves the land to sit idle through the winter. With a mixed-operating system, the land can be used year-round.

Diversified farms were common in North Dakota in the past, but many farmers moved away from the practice to simplify their operations. Gue says mixed operating systems improve the sustainability of the land for generations to come.

Using cover crops and getting cattle on those covers can be a lot more efficient than other inputs for cash crops, is less of an expense for producers, and makes full use of their parcel of land," he said.

CCLIP covers 60 percent of infrastructure costs like fencing, deep wells, pipe, tanks and cover crop seed. DU received a grant from the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) to cover more than half of the project costs.

"Our grant money will assist with the financial risk associated with trying to integrate livestock on cropland. This program is intended to help folks kick start sustainable agricultural practices that decrease the risk for farmers and ranchers, and allow them opportunities to explore a new, more holistic method of farming," Gue said. "Ducks Unlimited believes this project will give farmers healthier, more productive soil, which will increase their bottom line. With those improvements, it's not just farmers who reap the benefits."

This is DU's fourth OHF grant. The grant's success is due to the partnerships of Pulse USA, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, local soil conservation districts, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.