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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Seger

Ep. 53: What is stock cropping? With Zack Smith of Stock Cropper, Inc.

Ep. 53: What is stock cropping? With Zack Smith of Stock Cropper, Inc.

“We knew we had to think differently.”

That’s what fifth-generation Iowa farmer Zack Smith said when in early 2020, corn and soybean prices were at historical lows.

Along with a group of fellow farmers, Zack began to brainstorm solutions that would keep them farming, and that’s where the idea of stock cropping was born.

After testing farming concepts like strip inter-cropping with soybeans in between corn, Zack and his farming buddies dreamed up the idea of, “What if we put livestock in between the corn instead?”

Their thought process was, “How can we utilize multiple livestock enterprises in between strips of row crops, create a rotational system where animal manure minimizes the need for fertilizer, and create pasture strips in between corn to amplify production?”

What came about from that was a dynamic farming system combining multiple species of livestock and forage plants with crop production – now known as a Stock Cropper system.

In its prototype, the Stock Cropper grazed four different livestock species in a mobile infrastructure that moved twice daily through strips of pasture in between strips of corn throughout the season. Out front were sheep and goats; in back were pigs, and behind that were chickens.

The livestock consume a diverse pasture mix while leaving behind manure to feed the soil. The row crops grown between the pasture strips benefit from this arrangement by having more access to sunlight.

Then the following year, the cycle is completed by rotating the strips so that row crops are planted where the livestock grazed and deposited their manure. The livestock are fed from the feedstuffs that were produced the previous year.

The result is a combination of high-quality meats marketed and sold directly to consumers while profitability is maintained for the farmer.

Zack says two years in, “By using the power of this arrangement, and with the edge effect and that of nutrients from the animals, we grew 303-bushel corn this year where our static average was 230 to 240 in our area.”

And to drive that home, “I didn’t spray anything on that corn. All I did was change the arrangement, plant a few more plants, and I grew 60-bushel acre better corn, and there was no bill to pay,” Zack states. “What better thing is there as a farmer than that?”

Here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [02:43] Zack shares how the idea of a stock cropping approach to farming came about.

  • [05:48] Zack explains how the first Stock Cropper prototype was built, used and tested with four species of livestock rotationally grazed on pasture in between corn.

  • [09:07] Zack discusses the goal of a stock cropping system and the intended ratio of pasture to row crops.

  • [12:57] Sharing that planning and timing are critical to optimum grazing, Zack also shares the types of cool-season and warm-season forages that are ideal for grazing.

  • [15:15] Zack explains the specifics of how they’ve designed their stock cropping system to accommodate the behaviors of pigs.

  • [18:07] Zack shares what he thinks is the ideal acreage and ideal customer of a stock cropping system.

  • [23:01] While the movement of the Stock Cropper is autonomous, Zack demonstrates what feeding and care of the livestock entail.

  • [26:32] Zack describes the benefits he’s seen on plant health from strip inter-cropping from increased solar capacity.

  • [32:20] Zack shares two additional practices he has implemented on his farm to improve soil health.

  • [25:52] Zack leaves with what the future development and production of Stock Croppers looks like over the next few years.

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Resources mentioned in this episode:


Zack Smith is a fifth-generation farmer from Leland, Iowa. Before developing the Stock Cropper system, he worked for a large chemical supplier in the ag retail space and owned a seed and fertilizer consulting business. In 2020, he began full-time farming in pursuit of scaling Stock Cropper, Inc.



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