Establishment of Warm Season Grasses and Interseeding Legumes into Cool Season Pastures

Final Report for FNC93-053

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1993: $3,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1994
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $14,500.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The farm consists of 197 acres of rolling to level, well to poorly drained soils. The farm is in the “coteau des prairies” area of southwestern Minnesota. The farm consists of 100 acres of CRP, 80 acres of alfalfa and orchard grass and 17 acres of brome and Jun grass pasture.

There were no sustainable practices on this farm prior to this grant

George Millborn of Millborn Seeds, Inc., Brookings, South Dakota, helped select warm season grasses and the legumes most likely to succeed. Ivanhoe Elevator advised on fertilizer needs.

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We worked with ASCS, SCS, SWCD, the Extension Service, and Canby VoTech. ASCS and SCS issued a special permit to work with the CRP land. SCS did range site checks for yield potential and advised on stocking rates. SWCD supplied the no-till drill, tractor and driver for seeding in CRP and pasture. The Lincoln County Extension Service and Canby VoTech provided assistance for the field day and computerized record keeping.

The project objective was to improve CRP and permanent pasture grazing. This was done by interseeding legumes, alsike, white and red clover, birds foot trefoil and grazing alfalfa, directly into existing grass stands in both CRP and permanent pastures. Some CRP was converted from cool to warm season grasses by air seeding into heavy mulch. One of the problems encountered was reluctance by the SWCD to place a priority on interseeding legumes. This caused a three week delay and on additional chopping expense.

The method chosen for warm season grass conversion had never been tried. This method consisted of spraying herbicide (Round Up) to kill off the existing vegetative color. This was followed by one tillage with a serrated blade tandem disc, two workings with a smooth blade tandem disc, packing air drive fertilizer spreader and then dragging with a spike tooth harrow and a final packing with a land roller. This eliminated plowing and associated erosion risks by leaving heavy mulch on the surface. We went ahead with this procedure in spite of doubts expressed by numerous people about the possibility of a successful outcome. The permanent pasture has a thick sod. The grasses in the pasture were severely cropped by cattle and then the legumes were seeded with a no-till drill.

Results achieved included an excellent stand of all legumes, red, white and alsike clover, birds foot trefoil, and grazing alfalfas in both CRP and permanent pasture. The CRP conversion to switch, Indian, big blue stem and little blue stem, warm season grasses, showed good results. The success of the program was measured by visual appraisal of both legumes and warm season grasses. Several people, who are familiar with the growth habits of warm season grasses, made field visits and have concluded that the plantings were successful. The dry residue cover on the warm season grasses was 50% to 90%. There was no evidence of erosion in spite of heavy rains. The final conclusion about this planting must wait because it takes up to three years for warm season grasses to fully establish.

The goals were met with the exception of establishing Gamma grass. We were unable to procure seeds from the SCS plant materials center at Bismarck, North Dakota. Our small plot trials with seed from Missouri were unsuccessful the previous year because of cold weather and heavy rains. We put in a trial plot this year but do not know if it will over winter. On future plantings we will try disking in early spring and seeding legumes with a conventional drill. The soil my be friable enough then to seed without using a no-till drill and thereby reduce the costs.

We learned that it is possible to upgrade CRP by adding legumes and to convert from cool to warm season grasses without the erosion risk of plowing. This upgrading and conversion will allow the farm to be kept in permanent forages for the sustainable practice of rotational grazing. The biggest barrier to the program was the discouraging attitude of various people, including the SWCD board, who felt that certain methods would not work.

We suggest to other producers, disking and seeding the CRP early in the spring. They could use the same methods to seed warm season grasses. Seeding seemed to have the best chance of success if done early in the spring.

The impact of CRP upgrading would be a big step on the way to sustainability and profitability when combined with rotational grazing. Great savings could be achieved through reduced herbicide, fertilizer, fuel and machinery costs. The benefits would be passed on to society through less soil erosion, cleaner water and a more viable rural population.

We did not practice anything really sustainable before this grant but relied on selling hay and used fertilizer to maintain production levels.

We conducted a field day with about 35 people in attendance. Several neighbors have changed form skepticism to belief after having viewed the results. At least one neighbor is in the process of converting form annual crops to grazing. The field day was advertised in several local newspapers and in the Minnesota Grazer Newsletter. Project results of the cattle grazing will be published in the Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture yearly report. The information will also be available at the Canby Area Vocational-Technical School’s beef production class which is held monthly during the winter months. The seeded areas are open for viewing at any time.


Participation Summary
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.