My farm is primarily a cash crop operation with 800 acres of tilled dry land which has been wheat fallow rotation, but I am exploring more continuous cropping with millet and corn in the rotation. I also have 1080 acres of pivot irrigated land with crops being corn, Great Northern and Navy dry beans, wheat alfalfa and Kentucky blue grass certified and sod quality seed. I custom graze cattle on 675 acres of dry pasture. 392 acres of crop land in enrolled in CRP with native grass and tress established. Grass seed production was introduced in 1992 as a cash crop that would extend the crop rotation period and improve soil quality organic matter and tilth. Erosion control would also be enhanced during the 3-5 years the grass seed would be in production.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The object of the project was to evaluate a number of proprietary Kentucky blue grass varieties grown under our climate and soil conditions. The steps taken to complete the first year were:
1) A one tower pivot and underground were installed on 2.3 acres in early summer 1997.
2) See companies were invited to submit varieties to be evaluated. Seventeen varieties were received from seven companies
3) These varieties were planted August 21, 1997 in 14 inch rows on 10’x160’ plots replicated three times. This was a time consuming operation and was accomplished with the expert help and planning from Dr. Robert Shearman, IANR Center for Grass Land Studies, Dr. David Baltensperger and Rebecca Harms, University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Tony Merrigan, University of Nebraska Extension, Box Buttle CO; Wayne Crawford and Gary Little, producers who are interested in grass seed production. The research plots were watered and tended with all practices needed for seed production.
4) A Grass Seed Production Field Day was held on May 27, 1998. The field day started at Scottsbluff at the UN Research Center showing all of their plots and date of planting studies being conducted by Dr. Baltensperger and Rebecca Harms. Lunch was served at my shop provided by New Alliance Bean and Grain (my grass seed cleaner) and prepared by my wife Judy and other excellent grill flippers. Afternoon tour included the SARE research plots for discussion of the difference in varieties and other production fields on my farm. About 70 people attended.
5) The plots were windrowed and combined in July 1998 by Rebecca Harms and other personnel from UN Extension Center.
6) The data collected and compiled from the project was presented at the Winter Grass Seed Production meeting at the University of Nebraska Research Center, Scottsbluff, on December 27, 1998. The results were very informative and showed a wide variation in yield as well as growth habit. When the yields are plotted on a bar graph the varieties can be divided into 3 groups.
Group1 would be the low yield varieties that are usually very good sod forming cultivars. These varieties usually carry the higher contract prices but even at the high price the yield may result in unprofitable production.
Group 2 would be the middle yield varieties that have very good turf ratings while providing acceptable yields. These varieties generally carry a contract price in the $1.20-$1.50 range. Groups 1 and 2 can have associated premiums for Sod Quality Certified Seed tags that in my case are provided by Nebraska Crop Improvement Association by being field inspected and lab tested.
Group 3 would be the high yield varieties that have acceptable turf qualities. These varieties are more of the common cultivar type and are priced at a small premium to the common market. There may or may not e certified and price of $.70-$1.00 would be typical.
As a grower I would evaluate varieties from groups 2 and 3 as to available contracts. The Economics of Turf Grass Seed Production presented a the 1998 winter production meeting by Paul Burgener, Agricultural Economics University of Nebraska, would be very useful.
I think my project was very successful as it yielded good information. The project also introduced other producers to the idea of an alternative crop that is available that is soil and water conserving and will contribute to sustainable agriculture. I think as a result of cooperation of SARE, University of Nebraska, and myself there are over 1000 acres of grass seed fields planted for 1999 harvest with contracts from 3 contracting companies.