Perennial Legumes for Sustainable Pasture Systems

Final Report for LNC98-134

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $99,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Craig Sheaffer
University of Minnesota
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Project Information

Summary:

Objectives:
1. To evaluate alternative pasture renovation establishment strategies for new perennial legumes using a research/education network.
2. To develop a new kura clover variety through plant breeding.

Methods/approach: This is a participatory research/demonstration project with research conducted on-farm in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Objective 1: Producers interacted with personnel from nonprofit organizations and universities in evaluating alternative establishment strategies that fit their farm operations.

Treatments included legume species and establishment strategies. Species: kura clover; and either birdsfoot trefoil, alfalfa, or red clover. Establishment strategies for pasture renovation: The strategies varied depending on the farm operation but included some of the following:
(a) Frost seeding into existing pasture;
(b) broadcast seeding and packing following moldboard plowing or disking;
(c) No-till seeding using a no-till drill; and
(d) companion crop or ‘solo seeding’ following primary and secondary tillage.

Objective 2: Experimental populations that have undergone three cycles of selection for seedling vigor under controlled conditions in the greenhouse were evaluated under field conditions in Minnesota.

Results: Experiments involving kura clover and other legumes were established in diverse environments in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; however, successful establishment varied with environment and establishment strategy. Competition with existing vegetation and weeds was an important factor in influencing the success of establishment. Improved populations of kura clover had superior establishment and yields compared to existing varieties. Educational activities including workshops and field days were conducted in each state.

Impacts and Potential Contributions: kura clover is a promising new perennial forage legume that has potential to increase the productivity of pastures if successfully established. However, our work showed that establishing kura clover into existing or new pastures is challenging. For successful establishment, we recommend maximizing the suppression of existing vegetation and seeding during periods of favorable soil moisture. New varieties with improved yield and vigor should enhance establishment and profitability. Greater use of kura clover should increase long-term farm profitability.

Project Objectives:

1. To evaluate alternative pasture renovation establishment strategies for perennial legumes using a research/education network.

2. To develop a new kura clover variety through plant breeding.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Richard Leep
  • Richard Ness
  • Craig Shaeffer
  • Dan Undersander

Research

Materials and methods:

This is a participatory research/demonstration project with research conducted on-farm in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Objective 1: Producers interacted with personnel from nonprofit organizations and universities in evaluating alternative establishment strategies that fit their farm operations. Treatments include: Species:
(a) kura clover (varieties Rhizo and Endura);
(b) birdsfoot trefoil; and
(c) control (alfalfa or red clover).

Establishment strategies for pasture renovation: Strategies varied depending on the farm operation but included some of the following approaches:
(a) Frost seeding into existing pasture;
(b) broadcast seeding and packing following light disking;
(c) No-till seeding using a no-till drill; and
(d) companion crop or “solo seeding” following primary and secondary tillage.

Objective 2: Experimental populations of kura clover that had undergone three cycles of selection for seedling vigor under controlled conditions in the greenhouse were evaluated under field conditions on experiment stations in Minnesota.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1. Alternative strategies for establishment of kura clover and birdsfoot trefoil

Minnesota Results

Five field trials that were seeded in 1999 were again evaluated for changes in spring of 2001. In summary, when renovating old pastures, suppression of existing vegetation appears to be the most critical factor affecting establishment and persistence. Since Minnesota producers in our group had decided not to use herbicides, primary tillage using a moldboard plow or disking appeared to be the best vegetation suppression strategy.

Rupprecht Farm, Lewiston and Thicke Farm, LaCrescent. For stands established in 1999, kura clover populations and contribution to yield in spring of 2001 was very poor (stands of >1 plant per ft²). It appears that a continual decline in populations occurred since establishment. The failure of kura clover to establish and persist is directly related to competition with existing perennial grass vegetation. This vegetation competed with kura clover for light and water.

In spring of 2000, Mike Rupprecht successfully established high populations of kura clover (> 10 plants per ft²) using tillage and an oat companion crop. Tillage prior to seeding suppressed existing vegetation and reduced competition during establishment. However, by spring 2001, kura clover populations were less than 3 plants per ft².

Michaelis Farm, Rollingstone. As occurred in previous observations, kura clover populations were greater when either fall-tilled or spring moldboard plowed compared with spring digger-disking. Both practices (fall or spring moldboard plowing) provided for the greatest suppression of existing vegetation. Kura clover populations exceeded 30 plants per ft² and kura clover became the dominant component of the sward.

Minar Farm, New Prague. The dominant treatment effect observed in spring of 2001 continued to be due to tillage treatment. Disking two times in 1999 resulted in superior legume stands and less tall fescue than one-time disking (Table 1). Kura clover populations were excellent for treatments with good suppression of existing vegetation.

Michigan Results

We have no new data to report but provide the following summary. An on-farm experiment with producers was established in Clinton, Kalamazoo and Osceola counties in Michigan to evaluate alternative establishment strategies for kura clover using a research and demonstration network. Kura clover was established under no-till or conventional tillage systems in either pure or mixed stands with birdsfoot trefoil (BFT) or reed canarygrass in Clinton County. Ground cover in conventional tillage system was 60% and 70% for pure stands of kura clover and kura clover in kura-BFT mixtures, respectively. In no-tillage, ground cover was at least 80% for both treatments. Kura clover component in botanical composition was highest in no tillage compared with conventional tillage, but the former was associated with increased weed pressure. Kura clover produced up to 900 lb acre-¹ in the seeding year.

We have learned that kura clover is more difficult to establish than alfalfa or birdsfoot trefoil. The best establishment methods have been conventional seeding; however, direct drilling was successful in several locations and especially in Northern Michigan. The seeding establishment success seems to depend more on good weed control or suppression of grasses during the first six weeks of growth of kura clover. We have learned that kura clover is more difficult to establish than alfalfa or birdsfoot trefoil. The best establishment methods have been conventional seeding; however, direct drilling was successful in several locations and especially in Northern Michigan. The seeding establishment success seems to depend more on good weed control or suppression of grasses during the first six weeks of growth of kura clover.

Wisconsin Results

We have no new results to report but have reached the following conclusions:

Early planting was important for success. Most successful kura clover stands were planted in mid to late April. Later plantings tended to have greater exposure to moisture stress and more weed competition.

Control of perennial weeds by spraying or tillage prior to planting greatly improved stand success. Many of the no-till attempts that did not control weeds with herbicides prior to seeding resulted in poor stands.

Both no-till and conventional seeding resulted in comparable and adequate kura clover stands when weeds were controlled.

Several farmers tried using either oats or perennial ryegrass as a cover crop. These approaches generally resulted in poor to no stands of kura clover.

Objective 2: To develop a new kura clover variety through plant breeding

The University of Minnesota continued its kura clover breeding program and has developed populations with enhanced yield and seedling vigor. In 2001, at two locations, we conducted a seedling vigor evaluation of our new experimental populations compared to three marketed varieties (Endura, Rhizo and Cossack). Entries were seeded in spring 2001 and data collected in August. Results are shown in attached Tables 2 and 3. At St. Paul and Roseau, all plant materials were superior to Rhizo, an older variety with poor seedling vigor. Improved populations such as large shoot and first year non-flower had total and per plant yield similar to are exceeding those of Endura or Cossack. This indicates that the breeding program has made progress in improving seedling vigor. Seed of the most recently developed populations is being increased for widespread testing.

Research conclusions:

The productivity of many pastures in the North Central region could be greatly improved through the addition of a truly perennial legume. Legumes are important for profitable grazing management because they fix atmospheric N, have greater energy intake potential than grasses, and they improve seasonal distribution of pasture yield. The potential acreage that could benefit from a perennial legume that never requires reseeding is huge. There are over three million acres of permanent pastures in the North Central United States. If a persistent legume were added to primarily grass pastures, live weight gain could be improved compared to unimproved pasture production. In addition, elimination of the necessity to reseed legumes into the existing 1½ million acres of improved pastures would result in annual savings of over one million dollars. Greater use of pastures will reduce the dependence of our society on resource consuming tillage-based cropping systems.

Unfortunately, currently used legumes like alfalfa, red clover, white clover, and birdsfoot trefoil require careful management to be productive and do not reliably provide long-term persistence. We propose to use kura clover as a new model technology to promote pasture renovation with legumes. Kura clover is a promising new forage legume; however, our work showed the challenge of establishing it in pastures but also indicated some management strategies (vegetative suppressing) to enhance establishment. New varieties with improved yield and vigor should enhance establishment and profitability.

Economic Analysis

Results from an abbreviated economic analysis are shown for Minnesota locations in Tables 4 and 5. This analysis was based on yield and quality data. Enhancing legume composition of grass pastures increases yield and forage quality compared to a grass pasture. However, the benefit derived from legume introduction varies with legume species introduced and its effect on forage yield and quality.

For example, at the Michaelis farm, where we had good kura clover and red clover establishment, the best yield and forage quality (RFV) occurred with the greatest grass suppression (fall tillage treatment) and lowest yield and quality with the least suppression. In addition, introduction of red clover, a species know for good seedling vigor, resulted in greater RFV and yield than kura clover. Net return was correlated with forage yield and quality results. Although red clover appears to be a superior legume based on the results from the Michaelis and Minar farms, it is notoriously short lived, and beginning in 2002 it will be unlikely to make a significant contribution to the yield and quality of the pasture.

Farmer Adoption

We had over twenty farmers directly involved in this project by contributing ideas and by conducting on-farm research. Many others attended various meetings we held. We estimated a total audience of at least 800.

Recommendations: Farmers in each state did observe the potential of kura clover as a forage legume; however, they also observed that establishment was challenging. A key component of a recommendation for kura clover establishment is to control existing vegetation using either herbicides or severe tillage practices and to plant during seasons with good soil moisture levels.

Involvement of other audiences:

The audience has been primarily producers but has also included the general public and extension personnel.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

A producer oriented bulletin for the North Central United States: The title will be “Forage Legumes” and the bulletin will be distributed in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Expected publication date is November 2001. SARE’s support will be acknowledged in the publication.

A symposium on kura clover will be held at the Great Lakes International Grazing Conference on February 12, 2001, Battle Creek, Michigan. Results from our research will be presented.

A review and update of informational and educational activities:

Minnesota

January 2000. Project team meeting, Lewiston, MN. Participants in the project discussed research results from 1999 and plans for research in 2000.

July 2000. Kura clover pasture walk. Southeastern, MN. Participants in the project and the general public visited each of the research sites to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments. Twenty people attended.

February 2001. Kura clover project evaluation meeting. Lewiston, MN. Participants in the project and other producers attended a meeting to discuss the results and their feelings about the project. Fifteen people attended

Michigan

October 1999. Upper Peninsula Pasture Walk. Twenty people in attendance. Covered kura clover establishment.

March 2000. Tri-County Graziers meeting. Dr. Leep presented results of
kura clover research. Cooperators gave their impressions at the meeting.
Thirty people attended.

May 2000. Pasture walk. St. Johns, MI. Kura clover demonstration on
Howard Straub Farm. Fifty people attended.

July 2000. Pasture walk. East Lansing, MI. Kura clover research. Twenty
people attended.

August 2000. Pasture walk. Southwestern MI. Kura clover establishment. Thirty people attended.

October 2000. Pasture walk. Northern MI. Kura clover establishment. Ten people attended.

July 14, 2001. The Lake City Beef Cattle Forage Field Day at Lake City, MI. Two-hundred people attended.

Articles:
-May 2000 Jackson Co Ag News. Kura clover demonstration results.
-Michigan Hay and Grazier Newsletter. Winter 2000.

Wisconsin

July 18, 2000. Pasture walk. Sauk County, WI. Kura clover.

August 22, 2001. Pasture walk. Vernon County, WI. Kura clover.

July 12, 2001. Pasture walk. Green County, WI. Kura clover.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

We will ultimately plan to evaluate new kura clover varieties in additional trials.

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.