Developing an Educational Program for Teaching Science-based Concepts of Grass Regrowth for Improved Grazing Management

Final Report for EW97-004

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $65,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,560.00
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
David B. Hannaway
Oregon State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

The ability of grasses to grow and regrow numerous times after defoliation is an amazing characteristic and one that can be utilized to heal many types of scars and ailments of the earth’s land surface as well has provide numerous benefits to animals and humans. Most people, however, take grass and its ability to regrow for granted. Even those involved directly in agriculture do not understand, appreciate, or utilize this phenomenon. With increasing populations and the resulting environmental concerns, a good understanding of how grass can work best for inhabitants of this planet is very valuable. Taking care of the earth, feeding animals and humans, and beautification cannot occur without grass playing a key role. We must make the most of what grass is capable of doing: absorbing impurities in the air, filtering our water, improving the visual beauty, providing habitat for wildlife, remaining the main forage for livestock, reducing erosion, and providing numerous recreational surfaces. Grass can sustain us and improve the quality of life if we understand how to maximize its growth.

The information available in science and industry does not encourage the proper care and management of specific grasses. Since there are multiple thousands of types, grasses are a broad topic. Those closely involved with specific grasses tend to develop their own terminology and publications making dissemination to the general population difficult. But different grasses have different growth habits and responses to defoliation and must, therefore, be managed differently making the most of specific growth habits and regrowth mechanisms. This project has endeavored to make specific information available and understandable for all audiences. The grass experts have supplied information to educators and technology specialists who created a website discussing the many aspects of grass growth and regrowth.
URL:http://forages.orst.edu/projects/regrowth/.
This website is connected to the Forage Information System, recipient of the Resource in Agriculture award from Links2Go. A CD ROM has also been created to make the information available in another format. A brochure was created to allow the topic to be introduced to those less comfortable with computer technology.

The results of this project will help farmers and ranchers develop skills in transferring science to decisions for improved production and environmental stability. The need for this information is evident when talking to forage livestock producers, extension personnel, instructors, and industry representatives. There is a lot of information that is scattered throughout the literature and people’s experiences. There are also many points of contention since grasses differ and their growth differs in response to environments and management. The terminology is extensive and most work in the past has resulted in experts giving a “prescription” to a grower without increasing the understanding of that grower. This project provides understanding so that applications may be more fruitful.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: To create an instructional module on forage grass regrowth mechanisms.

Objective 2: To create an “Extension type” publication that uses portions of the comprehensive grass regrowth instructional module.

Objective 3: To develop a WWW segment on forage grass regrowth mechanisms and link it to other pasture management resources.

Objective 4: To create a “hybrid” CD ROM/WWW disk that utilizes the strengths of each media type.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

To date, the findings have been presented on the WWW making them available for comment and review. Information has been used for Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) workshops and discussions with the PNW Forage Workers Group, the Oregon Extension Pasture Working Group, and two Regional Research Projects (NE 132 “Dairy Forage Systems” and WCC 091 “Forage Stress”). Materials have been incorporated into 4 PNW Circular publications, and discussed at various informal gatherings of agricultural professionals including NRCS and Extension personnel.

Educational/Informational Materials Produced

WWW Site
The WWW site has been developed and integrated within the Forage Information System (URL: http://forages.orst.edu/projects/regrowth/. This provides an excellent mechanism for review and revision from cooperators nationwide.

Publications
Initial publication materials have been developed and incorporated into 4 PNW Extension circulars. This has introduced the concept and prepared readers for more advanced treatment of the subject in subsequent publications. The publications have received awards from the national meetings of the American Society of Agronomy. A brochure highlighting the project’s subject and summarizing its content has been created for extension use. Teaching materials are being created. A checklist for growers to determine how well he/she understands the specific growth/regrowth characteristics of their main forage grass has been created. This private assessment will serve as an anticipatory mind set for learning It is intended to expose the need for more understanding and direct the assimilation of knowledge. The checklist has been utilized and revised after being presented at extension workshops.

CD ROM
Software and additional hardware have been purchased from funds from another grant to support developing CD ROM materials. Completing our CD ROM on Forage Identification has taught us much and prepared us for developing the Grass Regrowth CD ROM. The Forage Identification CD ROM received honors at the American Society of Agronomy. Production of the Grass Regrowth CD has been completed in Folio format and additional formats are being investigated for continuing this project for teaching and extension applications.

Animation

An animation is being completed with funding from this and other grants to provide a visual guide to grass growth. This product was added to the project as a natural progression of comments and suggestions from reviewers.

Outcomes and impacts:

Products: Completion of the three proposed teaching tools has been accomplished. An extensive website has been developed and made available. A CD ROM on Grass Growth and Regrowth has been developed. A brochure summarizing the work and inviting interested learners to continue their learning by utilizing the website has been completed. The website is extensive and provides a source where terminology is defined, basic principles explained, and graphics are abundant to help various learners look closer at a topic many take for granted. The brochure can be used to introduce the topic to rookie audiences or to initiate in depth discussions with experienced managers. The website has undergone 2 revisions and will have a facelift again as another CD ROM format will be utilized. The initial CD ROM was fashioned after other USDA materials. With advances in technology, other CD ROM formats are being utilized with this project to make the materials more user friendly and more easily accessed. The effects of the I Love You virus were felt in this project as the jpeg images embedded in the program were removed. However, images are being replaced and improved in the process. The brochure brought some to the surface the need for more accurate descriptions of the floral and sterile shoots of various grass types. This project will, in part, circulate the ideas mingling in various universities on that subject. In addition to the above three tools, an animation of grass growth will accompany this project. An animated depiction of grass growth and regrowth has never before been accomplished. Though there are a few booklets that provide labeled drawings of a dissected grass plant and some images of grass plants in various stage, there has been no accurate animation of grass growth. The animation will be completed by December 2000 as a supplement to the contracted work.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

The primary difficulty in this project has been clarifying basic concepts that are often overlooked, avoided, confusing, or wrong in the available texts. Most of the texts common to plant physiologists do not provide sufficient information for the difference in grasses, the difference in initial growth versus subsequent growth after defoliation, and the various growing points of grass plants. Turf grass management books often supply more detail and explicit information but apply the information to golf courses and landscaping which want to limit and constrain the grass. Forage, however, wants to enhance yield and quality. Direct applications to forage production or grassland sustainability are not provided. The topic of grass growth and regrowth should be completely revisited by professors in a variety of classes: forages, plant physiology, horticulture, botany, and crops. If quality materials are prepared and disseminated, this topic may be more accurately presented. Even now, the specific information about many warm season grasses has yet to be compiled.

Potential Contributions

The potential benefits could be amazing. If the concepts presented in this project are learned and applied, great improvements in yield, quality, sustainability, and health could result. However, the topic is extensive and requires time and effort to absorb. Teaching people that different gasses grow differently, will respond differently to mowing and grazing, and will regrow with a unique combination of growth mechanisms and timing if a difficult task. This project has the basic materials needed for the task, but dissemination is the next step. Will producers take the time to study grass their number one tool for improved agriculture? Will Extension personnel admit their shortcoming and revisit a topic not clearly understood? Can these materials really help others understand the factors initiating growth, retaining vegetative growth, inhibiting the onset of reproductive growth, and fortifying the plant for dormancy and winter survival so that grass production could be markedly improved? There would be greater production and less disappointment caused by management mistakes. The benefits will mean seed is more effectively marketed and utilized. Grass regrowth mechanisms would also be incorporated into selection and adaptation discussions.

Impacts on Agricultural Professionals

The first likely impact to agricultural professionals will be a change in their thinking. Some feel that trial and error or management by calendar dates is sufficient. Some feel that regrowth cannot be effectively manipulated. Some feel most grasses are the same so different management practices are not needed. Most professionals do not have knowledge of grass regrowth because the detailed, specific information has been relegated to physiologists. This project aims to bring the scattered specific, and accurate knowledge to the managers in a usable format. Information provided to managers has been oversimplified to the point of error. They, first, must understand the benefits of understanding the mechanisms, learn the mechanisms for grasses they manage, and then implement changes in grazing and harvesting. Then they will begin to see how yield, quality, and plant health increase and improve. This new instruction should come from agriculture professionals. This project will provide the tools for such instruction.

Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers

During the final phases of this project, many forage livestock producers commented on the information provided on the website. Many have much to learn about managing grasses and many scientists are reluctant to extend their answers beyond one specific grass and environment. So, the mismanagement of grass continues to be the number one cause of sub-optimal quality and yields. We have incorporated countless suggestion for revisions and clarifications. Farmers and ranchers agree that the concepts are key to maximizing grass in sustainable operations but admit that the learning curve is steep. They grasp a little at a time and try applying that to daily decisions.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.