U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Forages provide several soil benefits, including reduced soil erosion, reduced water runoff, improved soil physical properties, increased soil carbon, increased soil biologic activity, reduced soil salinity, and improved land stabilization and restoration when grown continuously or as part of a crop rotation. Ongoing research and synthesis of knowledge have improved our understanding of how forages alter and protect soil resources, thus providing producers, policymakers, and the general public information regarding which forage crops are best suited for a specific area or use (e.g. hay, grazing or bioenergy feedstock). Forages can be produced in forestland, range, pasture, and cropland settings. These land use types comprise 86% of non-Federal United States rural lands (Table 12.1). In the United States, active forage production occurs on 22.6 million ha and is used for hay, haylage, grass silage, and greenchop (Table 12.2). Forages are used as cover crops in several production systems, and approximately 4.2 million ha were recently planted in cover crops (Table 12.3). Currently, the highest cover crop use rates, as a percentage of total cropland within a given state, occur in the northeastern United States. Globally, permanent meadows and pastures account for over 3.3 billion ha, greater than arable land and permanent crops combined (Table 12.4). Within all regions of the world, except Europe, permanent meadows and pastures are a greater proportion of land cover than permanent crops. Pasture management information and resources are available for countries around the world (FAO 2017a,b). As seen in Tables 12.1–12.4, forages are used globally and can provide soil benefits across varied soil and climate types.

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