We are the heirs of a 320 acre family farm that is currently in CRP and has always been farmed on an environmentally aware basis, but in a traditional manner. Prior to the Conservation Reserve Program, the farm was actively farmed by our father who had dairy cattle, hogs, and horses and did some row crop farming of corn.
Our father rotated his crops and was one of the first in our area to use contour farming and then to having terracing built.
When we inherited the farm, it was in CRP. We obtained an early release form the government to participate in this education, research and outreach project. We felt that with millions of acres of CRP land leaving the conservation reserve program the beginning of 1995, producers must have viable plans to make this land profitable.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Our objectives were:
– Demonstrate that land in the CRP program can be successfully and profitably converted to grazing land, with the reintroduction of native prairie species as a priority.
– Determine effective and cost-efficient methods of removing biomass from CRP land in order to stimulate new forage growth.
– Hold field days, tours, and otherwise publicize the project in order to apprise other producers of methods to convert CRP to grazing land.
We used eight plots on land that had been enrolled in CRP and planted to switch grass in 1986. The biomass had accumulated on this land until the demonstration began in November 1994. These plots were as follows:
– Plot 1 – Animal impact/graze
– Plot 2 – Animal impact/rest
– Plot 3 – Shred/rest
– Plot 4 – Rest/rest (control)
– Plot 5 – Shred/graze
– Plot 6 – Hay/graze
– Plot 7 – Controlled burn/graze
– Plot 8 – Controlled burn/rest
Biomass removal treatments:
Each biomass removal treatment was followed by either grazing or rest later in the season. We learned in the beginning that we would not be able to use the sheep and lambs in our project because we could not get them to enter the switch grass at all even when we tried to feed on it in the winter months. Therefore, our grazers were changed to bison.
Animal impact: fifty bison, averaging 500 lbs grazed June 20th and August 2nd 1995. Sixty-two bison grazed September 1, 1995.
Shredding: biomass was shredded to 4” in March 1995. Residue remained on the surface.
Hay: biomass was cut at 2” and baled in November 1994 producing 95 bales weighing 35 lbs.
Controlled burn: plots were burned April 11, 1995. We weather caused a cool, slow burn.
Forage monitoring and cost assessment: We visually assessed plots for speed and density of forage regrowth, ground cover and weeds after biomass was removed. Only unusual out-of-pocket expenses were considered when calculating the cost of each treatment.
Preliminary results and conclusions: The effects of grazing vs. resting following biomass removal in 1995 could not be assessed this season.
Burning produced the fastest, densest regrowth of any of the treatments. The burn was cool and slow, due to weather. Weed seeds were not destroyed; burned plots had significantly more milkweed than other plots. The soil was left bare until regrowth occurred. The custom rate of burning was $3 per acre.
Animal impact was the next most effective treatment in stimulating regrowth. Animals provided heavy hoof action, manure deposition, and consumption of a limited amount of thatch. The soil was not left bare. This alternative could be especially useful when burning is not possible or desirable. No cost was considering in this treatment, as the animals and materials were available.
Haying and shredding were comparable in their effect on regrowth; neither was as effective as the other two treatments. Haying left the soil surface somewhat bare until regrowth occurred. Custom haying cost $76 per acre, which included outside labor. We rented a shredder at $6 per acre.
Reseeding of native plants including Indian Grass, Purple Prairie Clover, Big Bluestem and Little Bluestem was done in November by broadcasting the seed under the feet of the bison. This seed was gathered from some of our existing plants and, therefore, no additional cost was incurred.
Mr. Terry Gompert, Extension Educator, Eastern Niobrara Extension Program, served as the coordinator for our project and conducted the field day/demonstrations. He was supported by the other cooperators including ourselves.
Wyatt Fraas, Project Director, Beginning Farmer Project, Center for Rural Affairs
Tim Powell, Extension Farm Management Specialist
Vicki Mundy, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Results: At this time, we plant to winter graze as much of the rest of our CRP as it comes our, to not only get the benefits of the forage but the animal impact as well. Then it won’t need burned next spring. This will lower the cost of wintering our animals and the renovation of the CRP.
Discussion: We learned from the plots that each of the removal techniques worked; however when cost and efficiency were applied, winter grazing (which is trampling) is the most cost efficient means of biomass removal. As far as the rotational grazing is concerned, even though we had a severe two month drought this summer our rotationally grazed pastures continued to be green and lush as compared to our neighbor’s traditionally grazed pastures that looked like dirt lots. In fact, we are still grazing at this time.
It is hard to estimate that impacts of this sustainable practice, but the benefits will continue to be a reduction in soil erosion, water infiltration, slowing of run-off, and reduction of chemical use. We have enjoyed showing our project to eighth graders from Allen, Nebraska; The Hillcrest Manor (nursing home) residents from Laurel, NE; a Cub Scout troop from Laurel, NE, several grandparents with grandchildren, and other educators form out-of-state. Our biggest thrill was to have two of our neighbors tell us that they are going to fence their pastures differently next year after watching our project during the drought months. Another neighbor has already begun his rotational grazing.
We were honored to be asked to give a demonstration talk at the annual Loess Hills Prairie Seminar sponsored by Western Hills Area Education Agency in cooperation with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources June 2-4, 1995.
Our first field day demonstration was heavily advertised by flyers, radio announcements, newspaper announcements and was attended by news media persons the day of the event which also prompted additional coverage in later papers.
Our second field day demonstration was primarily for agency personnel; however it was also attended by some nonprofessional people who had our brochure or had heard about it from others.
Our last field day demonstration was primarily for FFA chapters in the Lewis & Clark NRD area. Bruce Scheid, farm and business reporter from KTIV Channel 4 in Sioux City, Iowa came and conducted an interview with us directly after we completed the tour. It was used as a news item on a later 10:00 pm news broadcast.
Printed items included:
– The Sioux City Journal
– The Laurel Advocate
– University of Nebraska-New Visions
– Norfolk Daily News
– South Sioux City Star
– Tri-State Livestock News
– The Wayne Herald
– The Nebraska Farmer Magazine
– New Farm Magazine
– Hay& Forage Grower Magazine