University of Manitoba: Natural Systems Agriculture: Rotational Benefits of Forages
University of Manitoba Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Department of Plant Science

The Rotational Benefits of
Forages: A Review


"In 1950, forage crops occupied 4.5% of our cropped acreage in Manitoba. Nevertheless, the best advice obtainable indicates that at least 20% of our acreage should be sown to these crops to meet the need of our soil and livestock."

- from 1951 Bulletin of the Manitoba Department of Agriculture and Immigration

"Today, the estimated percent of arable cropland rotated with forages ranges from 5 to 15% on the northern Great Plains."

- from Entz, M. H., Baron, V. S., Carr, P. M., Meyer, D. M., Smith S. R. Jr. and McCaughey, W. P. 2002. Potential of forages to diversify Northern Great Plains Cropping Systems. Agronomy Journal 94: 240-250.

The benefits of forages in crop rotation have long been recognized. In the past, forages were associated with "stable or balanced" agriculture. Modern research tells the same story, but due to less diversified production systems, the benefits of forages are often not taken advantage of.

The Value of Forages to Agriculture

Forages offer a direct value to agriculture by being a large part of the rations fed to livestock. For example:

Livestock % Forage in Ration
Beef: cow-calf 98
Beef: finishing 25
Dairy 60

Forages also offer an indirect value to agriculture. Forages offer benefits by improving the soil, crop yield and quality, suppressing pests and reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment to name a few.

A quote about alfalfa...

Today, upon the threshold of an era of infinite promise, who is bold enough to measure the civilizing values of such a plant upon human destiny?

Geo W. Hendry, 1932


  • Consider rotating short-term forage stands to benefit the whole farm.
  • In not interested in traditional forages, consider cover crops or forage seed crops.

Further Reading:

M.H. Entz, W.J. Bullied, and F. Katepa-Mupondwa. 1995. Rotational benefits of forage crops in Canadian prairie cropping systems. Journal of Production Agriculture 8:521-529. Read the paper (PDF).

M.H. Entz, V.S. Baron, P.M. Carr, D.W. Meyer, S.R. Smith, Jr., and W.P. McCaughey. 2002. Potential of forages to diversify cropping systems in the Northern Great Plains. Agronomy Journal 94: 240-250. Read the paper (PDF).

Copyright and Liability

This page created August 2004.
Last updated September 2016.