Native Seed Production for Crop Diversification

Final Report for SW04-087

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $171,121.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Ron Godin
Colorado State University - Rogers Mesa Res. Ctr.
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Project Information


Restoration efforts on public lands in western Colorado, specifically on the Uncompahgre Plateau, have placed a high demand on the limited supply of native seed. This project was undertaken to determine if perennial native species from the Uncompahgre Plateau could be grown under cultivated conditions by local growers to supply local, state and federal agencies with native seed. Initial results were mixed but improved as the project progressed. The growers are optimistic of the income potential for larger scale plantings. The information gained from this project shows that native seed production can be a profitable addition to growers’ crop diversification.

Project Objectives:

(1) Sustain long-term agricultural production by enhancing crop diversification and economic sustainability. The Project will strive to use both producer and researcher feedback to improve native seed cultivation practices to continually improve production practices that enable sustainable long-term production and economic viability for producers. The inclusion of native seed production will aid in crop diversification and economic sustainability by increasing income compared to traditional alfalfa and grass hay production.
(2) Rehabilitate and restore natural ecosystems on the Plateau through the use of locally produced native plant seeds. The outcomes generated by this Project, locally produced native seeds, cultivation methods for native seed production and establishment of producer-buyer relationships, will greatly aid in restoration on the Plateau. Initially, restoration will be on a watershed basis and later growing to the entire Plateau. Eventually, it is anticipated that the region will become a seed source for restoration efforts within the entire Colorado Plateau.
(3) Enhance viability of long-term seeding projects by using locally produced and adapted species. The Project will help to insure and sustain a native seed production base for long-term restoration and revegetation efforts on the Plateau by working together with local producers and creating a market for locally produced native seed.
(4) Provide the information, knowledge and infrastructure for raising native seeds commercially for an existing high-demand market. Research outcomes and producer feedback will be incorporated into the existing knowledge base to improve cultivation methods and optimize native seed production. Research and producer results on improving production will be disseminated to producers at field days and through reports and presentations.
(5) Conduct research of native seed production and the transfer of production information to local growers. Moreover, seed producers will be an important source of information and knowledge for researchers as the producers monitor their crop production and provide specific crop information for adoption into the production system.


Located in western Colorado, the Uncompahgre Plateau (Plateau) encompasses 607,000 ha (1.5 million acres) of mostly public and some private lands, includes five counties, and is bordered by the cities of Montrose, Delta, Grand Junction, Ridgway, Olathe, Norwood, Naturita, Nucla and Gateway. In the past 120 years, the Plateau has been severely impacted by human activity, including grazing, logging, recreation, fire suppression and road construction. Livestock grazing and fire suppression have allowed the pinyon-juniper woodlands and shrublands to increase in size and density, decreasing elk and mule deer habitat and winter-feeding grounds. Our assumption was that if native plants could be grown profitably under cultivated conditions by local growers, this would reduce the need for wild-collected seed and increase the supply available for restoration projects. If this project were successful, growing native plants for seed would increase farmers’ viability and profitability and reduce their risk by increasing the crop diversification on their farms.
The Native Seed for Crop Diversification project (Project) was undertaken to determine if a) native perennial plants could be grown under cultivated conditions, b) native plants could become a viable and profitable crop for local farmers/growers and c) cultivation practices (i.e. irrigation practices, plant spacing and weed control) could be employed to optimize native seed production and profitability. The native seed produced would then be used to increase native grass and forb populations in the pinyon and juniper under-story, used for habitat and winter forage by deer and elk, and generally benefit the ecosystem health of the Plateau. The Uncompahgre Plateau Project (UP Project), which is a new and experimental method for managing public/private lands through a collaborative, community based process, is attempting to understand the impacts of human activity on the Plateau and begin the process of ecosystem restoration on the Plateau in a manner that involves and best serves the interests of the local communities.
The initial years for collecting wild seed for this project were 2002 and 2003, which were severe drought years in western Colorado and the western US. In general, seed available for wild collection was very sparse so it was decided to grow the seed in greenhouses and use transplants to establish the field instead of continuous seeding as originally planned. Although seed was sparse for the initially targeted species, small amounts of seed from various other critical species was wild collected and included in this study for practicality’s sake. Not all of the species selected lent themselves to seed production under cultivation. From our observations, the main reason some species did not produce is the short-lived nature of many of the species. Although many of the species are listed as perennial, many only survived one to two years following transplanting.
The final outcomes of this Project are new insights into the establishment and cultivation of native seeds and improved methods of production that will enable local producers to grow the native seed needed by the UP Project and associated partners to revegetate the Plateau. Local producers will benefit from crop diversification and ready markets for their native seed production, increasing their economic sustainability and viability while contributing to environmental improvement in the region.
The original literature search and review was conducted for species specific information on seed treatments, fertility, irrigation, harvesting times and techniques as well as information on general growth characteristics in the National Agricultural Library, the SARE database, and the internet. The four original species chosen for initial research on this project were Basin Wildrye, Leymus cinereus, (LECI), Western Yarrow, Achillea lanulosa, (ACLA), Utah Sweetvetch, Hedysarum boreale, (HEBO), and Bluestem Penstemon, Penstemon cyanocaulis, (PECY). These four species were chosen because of seed availability of site-specific wild collected seed as part of other UP Project work and their importance to habitat restoration. Prior to initiation of the project sufficient amounts of wild collected seed became available and additional species were added to this project. Table 1 contains the complete list of species.
Common Name Latin Name Code
Basin Wildrye Leymus cinereus LECI
BB Squirreltail Elymus elymoides ELEL
Mountain Brome Bromus marginatus BRMA
Muttongrass Poa fendleriana POFE
Prairie Junegrass Koeleria macrantha KOMA
Salina Wildrye Elymus salinas ELSA
Sandberg Bluegrass Poa secunda POSE
Blue Flax Linum Lewisii LILE
Bluestem Penstemon Penstemon cyanocaulis PECY
Sulfur Buckwheat Eriogonum umbellatum ERUM
Utah Sweetvetch Hedysarum boreale HEBO
Western Yarrow Achillea lanulosa ACLA
Wild Aster Erigeron speciousus ERSP

General cultural practices are used across a variety of native plants for seed production. Site selection should include cultivatable fields with well-drained soils that are free from noxious weeds. Irrigation water must be available to be successful in the arid west, and protection from wind is also desired (Stevens, et al., 1996). When preparing the ground for planting, the soil should be worked thoroughly to remove all traces of weeds and other plants. In general, seed drilling is preferable to broadcasting especially if the seed is not plentiful. Seeding time and depth is species specific, as many native seeds need individualized cultural practices as well as seed treatment to meet specific germination requirements. Transplants may also be used in establishing a stand (Stevens, et al., 1996). The Project concentrated mainly on perennial cool-season grasses as ecologists and biologists had identified these as the most critical to deer and elk because the grasses have very early spring growth and provide feed early in the spring after winter scarcity. Other sources were located regarding the selected species but did not answer questions regarding seed treatment, germination requirements, stand establishment and management, or seed production and harvesting (Baurdot, et al., 1984; Gurevitch, et al., 1990; Johnson, et al., 1989; and Roundy, 1985). Information regarding research collected from Colorado was prioritized followed by research conducted in the arid western states. This literature search demonstrates that little is known in some key areas of native plant production practices for the selected species.
Basin Wildrye (LECI) is a cool-season perennial bunchgrass. Research has been conducted on LECI for native landscapes and for revegetation purposes. However, little research exists on how to cultivate Basin Wildrye as an agronomic crop. Utah State University Extension (USUE) has published bulletins including information on growing some native grasses, forbs, and shrubs (Horton, et al, 1990; and Stevens, et al., 1996). These publications offer information on establishment of LECI, including seeding rates and spacing, and management of the stand, including fertility, irrigation, and weed control, best suited for growing theses plants in Utah. However, limited information is available on seed production. Little research has been done on best growing practices for Colorado. Some information on this subject can be found at the USDA Plant Materials Program (Ogle, et al., 2003). Seed harvesting and seed cleaning are mentioned in the USUE bulletin on Grass Seed Production in Utah (Horton, et al., 1990), but little information is available elsewhere on seed production.
Bottlebrush Squirreltail (ELEL) is a short-lived, cool season bunchgrass most commonly found in low to middle elevations. The Bridger Plant Materials Center (BPMC) researched ELEL from wild harvest through seed treatments, propagation, and seed harvest (Winslow, 2002b). They provide growing guidelines, many of which are applicable to Colorado. The ecotypes collected were all from Yellowstone National Park and the planting sites were all in Montana making their timelines different from Colorado due to a shorter growing season in northern states (Winslow, 2002b). The NRCS has published a plant guide on ELEL that includes both ecological descriptions as well as cultivation guidelines (Tilley, 2007). The establishment and management protocol provided closely resembles that from the BPMC, with additional discussion on specific cultivars. This publication was produced in Idaho and again is geared towards growing in northern latitudes (Tilley, 2007).
Mountain Brome (BRMA) is a cool season, erect bunchgrass found in mountain and intermountain regions. The BPMC has researched wild harvesting and seed processing as well as protocol for direct seeding and subsequent establishment and growth of Mountain Brome (Winslow, 2002a). This information was compiled from extensive plantings including multiple ecotypes in several locations in Montana with similar elevation ranges as the seed grown by the Project and some basic information was gleaned from these publications. However, the Project research was conducted for cultivation information specific to the Uncompahgre Plateau region working with local wild harvested seed at more southerly latitudes with a longer growing season and warmer temperatures. An article by Stark,, (1949), provided significant data on seed yield as influenced by nitrogen fertilization.
Muttongrass (POFE) is a cool-season perennial bunchgrass. There are growing protocols for continuous seeding, however, little research was found to compare the yields at different plant spacings. The irrigation protocol is similar to the Project’s early season irrigation regimes; no other irrigation schedules were examined (Smith and Smith, 1996). Very little other information is available on the establishment and management of POFE.
Prairie Junegrass (KOMA) is a cool-season perennial bunchgrass. Propagation protocols for KOMA were found from Glacier National Park, Montana, (Winslow, 2002c) and from the BPMC (Wick,, 2004). The protocols from the BPMC were from a direct seeded continuous planting, different than our spacings, but contained pertinent information on establishment and harvest (Wick,, 2004). The ecotype the BPMC worked with was a lower elevation ecotype, 1370 m (4500 ft), and so has a different growing season from our ecotypes that are from approximately 2100 m (7000 ft). The Native Grass Seed Production Manual (Smith and Smith, 1996), also includes information on fertilization and seeding rate for continuous plantings of KOMA, and suggests an irrigation schedule similar to our early irrigation research. Other irrigation schedules or spacings were not considered. The USDA has a plant guide available (Ogle, 2003b) citing largely the above-mentioned resources but also includes information from Plant Materials Centers from the Great Basin growing area. This publication is more general due to the need to address cultivation techniques over a wider growing area while the Project research seeks to provide cultivation techniques for the western Colorado region.
Salina Wildrye (ELSA) is an erect, cool-season bunchgrass found growing throughout the inter-mountain west. Very little information was found on the cultivation of ELSA. It has low seed germination and poor seedling vigor. Flowering can occur from May through July depending on the site characteristics (USDA, 2007).
Sandberg Bluegrass (POSE) is a cool season tufted bunchgrass. Sandberg Bluegrass is discussed in Range Plants of Utah (Pratt,, 2002), but the focus is on ecological adaptations and its use as forage for domestic livestock. The only other information found on POSE is from the USDA Plants database that provides growth requirements but no cultivation information (USDA, 2007).

Lewis Flax (LILE) or Blue Flax is discussed in the Native Grass Seed Production Manual (Smith and Smith, 1996). While certain information, including fertilization and seed cleaning, was helpful in the cultivation and processing of seed, their guidelines were for solid rows of flax and not for spaced plants. The irrigation scheduling this manual suggests is similar to the early season irrigation schedule used in this research, but no alternate irrigation schedules were indicated. The Forb and Seed Production Guide for Utah (Stevens, et al., 1996) has a reference for LILE, but again it is for managing continuously planted rows. The irrigation schedule suggested by the manual (Stevens, et al., 1996) is very limited with only three irrigations suggested which sharply differs from the irrigation schedule for the Project. The NRCS Plant Guide (Ogle, 2007) for LILE has pertinent information on establishment and management for continuous row plantings, but their focus is how to maximize production from growing the improved cultivars released from Plant Materials Centers in the western U.S. and not for wild collected seeds.
Bluestem Penstemon (PECY) is a regional perennial forb. Due to PECY’s limited distribution, little research is available on this variety of penstemon. Research involving germination requirements for PECY are available, however, there is much variation in recommended chilling requirements to break seed dormancy that are elevation specific (Meyer and Kitchen, 1994). A page was found on Penstemon seed germination and methodology providing some information on germination requirements, however, this site did not provide information on cultural practices needed to ensure growth once the seed is germinated or whether the information contained was based on scientific data or evaluations (Swayne, 2000). Little research is available for this species regarding plant and row spacing, irrigation, fertility, or seed production criteria. Limited information was found on growing Penstemon species, but the management guidelines were generalized due to the differences in the needs and ranges of individual species of Penstemon (Ogle, et. al.,2007).
Sulfur Buckwheat (ERUM) is a warm season perennial forb. Utah State University’s Extension service includes growing guidelines for ERUM in the Forb and Shrub Seed Production Guide for Utah (Stevens, et al., 1996). Planting guidelines were for both continuous planting and spaced plantings. Transplants were spaced at 75 – 90 cm (2.5-3 ft) between plants and rows. At the suggestion of a Project botanist, this Project examined three different spacings from 45 to 75 cm (1.5 – 2.5 ft) in rows 75 cm (2.5 ft) apart. The irrigation guidelines in the Forb and Shrub Seed Production Guide for Utah (Stevens, et al., 1996) called for one irrigation in spring or summer, which differs greatly from the irrigation scheduling proposed by the WSARE research project but much of the other seed production and harvest information proved to be pertinent. The NRCS released a Plant Guide on growing Sulfur Flowered Buckwheat (Dyer, et al., 2007) with much of the publication dedicated to ecological characteristics. The establishment and management guidelines suggested are for plantings in locations ranging from California north to Canada and also Colorado and New Mexico.
Utah Sweetvetch (HEBO) is a perennial legume found throughout the Intermountain west. There are few sources providing information on seed treatment and germination requirements. Scarification must be used, and the seeds of HEBO can then be germinated in a variety of temperatures and light intensities (Redente, 1982). Research on stand establishment and management has been done in Utah, such as seeding depth and rate, row spacing, and pollination requirements (Stevens, et al., 1996). There are some discrepancies between information provided in Stevens, et al. (1996), which recommends higher rates of irrigation, while Lindstrom, (1998), suggests lower irrigation requirements. Research shows that different stands of HEBO collected from the wild will exhibit a large variation in irrigation requirements. Ford, et al.,(1989), documents the effects of water stress during plant and seed development. Stevens, et al., (1996) states that site conditions will dictate requirements for fertilitybut does not offer recommendations.
Western Yarrow (ACLA) is an herbaceous perennial, found throughout Colorado in many zones. Both direct seeding and transplants are possible means of stand establishment, and sources offer information on seed treatment and germination requirements for both methods (Michigan State University Extension, 1999); (Stead and Post, 1989); and (Stevens, et al., 1996). The USUE bulletin Forb and Shrub Seed Production offers information on stand establishment, management, and seed production (Stevens, et al., 1996). Little information is available regarding specific cultural practices. However, information on seed harvesting, processing, and storage from two sites in Colorado was found in Butler and Freiswyk, 2001, and Noller, 2001.
Wild Aster (ERSP) is a warm season perennial forb with a daisy-like flower (Kershaw,, 1998) Little was found on the cultivation of ERSP. Two propagation protocols were found, but both only discussed the proper greenhouse environment for germinating and establishing seedlings in flats (Baskin and Baskin, 2002), (Butler and Frieswyk, 2001). The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has the most information on growing ERSP. In addition to providing plant characteristics and distribution information suggested propagation techniques were discussed (University of Texas at Austin, 2007). Other sources provide only descriptive information and range (Rocky Mountain Native Plants Company, 2007) (, 2007).


Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Rooster & Missy Barnhart/Rogers
  • Ron Bell
  • Mary Chapman
  • Dave & Pam Herz
  • Kenny Hines
  • John Moore
  • Carl & Cindy Roberts
  • Bob Welsh


Materials and methods:

Project Design
The native plants selected for this project are listed in Table 1. The species were selected by state and federal agency botanists and scientists. The species that were selected are considered critical native plant species for improving mule deer and elk habitat and are classified as perennial native plants. Initially, transplants were used to establish plantings due to low volumes of seed collected because of the drought mentioned above. Later established fields used continuous seeding as larger amounts of seed became available.
The project design consisted of two parts conducted simultaneously. The first part consisted of four grower-cooperators that grew native grasses on plots of 0.13 ha (1/3 acre or greater). The second part of the study involved Colorado State University’s Western Colorado Research Center (Research Center) and grew both native grasses and forbs on small 35 m2 (375 ft2) replicated plots and larger (0.05 to 0.13 ha (1/8 to 1/3 acre)), “Life History” plots. The plants in the “Life History” plots were used to study the plant’s development, or life history, over the length of the study and longevity along with seed yields. Species grown at each site are listed in Table 2.

Table 2. Species grown by grower-cooperators and the Research Center.
Grower-Cooperator Native Species Grown
Kenny Hines: BRMA, POFE, LECI
Missy Rogers: LECI
Research Center
Replicated Plots: POFE, KOMA, ERUM, ASEA*, PECY, LILE**
Research Center

* = did not survive past first year.
** = did not survive past second year and had a poor stand and no seed yield.

Part one of the project involved four grower-cooperators growing native grasses on three 0.13 ha (1/3 ac) of land on their farms. Except for the Rogers farm, where the whole 0.4 ha (1 ac) was continuous seeded to LECI, the grower-cooperators split their fields into thirds and grew three different native grass species. Grasses were chosen for growers, rather than forbs, because of the ease of weed control in grasses with the chemical herbicides and the grower’s lack of manual labor for weed control. Grower-cooperators Herz, Roberts and Rogers grew the indicated species on approximately 0.4 ha (1 ac) of land that had been previously planted grass hay pastures. The 0.4 ha field at the Hines farm had been previously planted to corn and dry beans.
Part two of the project design consisted of two replicated research blocks and ten life history plots at the Research Center in Hotchkiss, Colorado. The two research blocks were designed to examine the effects of irrigation and plant spacing on native seed production. The ten life history blocks were used to duplicate grower-cooperator plantings and closely examine and detail the plant’s life history, or stages of development, in an effort to devise best management practices for optimizing native seed production.
In the year seedlings were transplanted into the fields, approximately 95% of the plants in all of the species remained in a vegetative growth stage until dormancy in the fall. The remaining 5% did flower, however, the flowering was very late compared to following years and little or no seed was produced. The results for the replicated studies were analyzed using analysis of variance (SAS, 1998). Significance is reported at the p < 0.10 level.
Research Methods
Pre-plant weed control
At the outset of the project it was understood that weed control would be the biggest challenge to the success of the Project and the native species grown. At the Herz and Roberts farms, weed eradication was undertaken from spring to fall 2004. Weed eradication methods consisted of bi-monthly furrow irrigations followed by disking and/or herbicide applications on a monthly basis. The weed eradication was done to reduce spring, summer and fall weed seeds from the soil weed seed bank to minimize competition with the native grasses once planted. The Hines and Rogers farms used the same methods as Herz and Roberts but conducted weed eradication in 2005 and 2006, respectively, prior to planting. Weed eradication at the Research Center was conducted from spring to fall of 2004 for the Replicated Plots and from the spring to fall of 2005 for the life history plots.
Native plant seedlings were greenhouse propagated from seed collected on the Plateau for all plants listed in Table 2 for Herz, Roberts and the Research Center – Replicated Plots. Native grass seedlings were transplanted into the Herz and Roberts fields in the spring of 2005 on a 60cm (2 ft) plant spacing (please see Table 2 for a list of species transplanted at each location). At the Research Center, native grasses and forbs were transplanted into the replicated randomized complete blocks for the irrigation and spacing studies in late spring of 2005.
The Hines and Rogers farms were direct seeded in the late fall of 2005 and 2006, respectively. At the Research Center, the life history plots were direct seeded in the fall of 2005. The seeds were planted in the fall to mimic over-wintering of native seeds in the wild. All direct seeding was done on a continuous basis with a cone planter-seed drill that planted approximately 40 – 50 seed per meter of row (12-15 seeds per foot of row). All row spacings at the grower-cooperator sites were 0.76 m (30 in.), as that is standard gated pipe irrigation spacing for area farmers. The row spacing at the Research Center was 0.76 m (30 in.) to coincide with the spacing on grower-cooperator fields although the irrigation used at the Research Center was sub-surface drip and not furrow irrigation as at the grower-cooperators.
The Herz and Roberts fields were furrow irrigated every 10 days to two weeks depending on climatic and soil moisture conditions from the time of transplanting until mid-September (typical shutdown date for most irrigation systems in the area) 2005, and from April 15th until September 15th in 2006 and 2007. The Hines field was furrow irrigated every10 days to two weeks from early April to mid-September in 2006 and 2007. The Rogers field was furrow irrigated every10 days to two weeks from early April to mid-September 2007. The length of the irrigation season in western Colorado is dependent on the specific irrigation company and available water supply for each farm in each particular year.
At the Research Center, transplants in the Replicated Plots were sub-surface drip irrigated with pressurized drip tape every five to ten days, depending on climate and soil moisture content, from the time of transplanting until September 15th in 2005, except for the portion of the irrigation study (detailed below) where irrigation was shut off at seed maturity (approximately June 15th in 2005, 2006 and 2007). In 2006 and 2007, the replicated studies were irrigated from April 15th until September 15th except for the portion of the irrigation study mentioned above. The life history plots at the Research Center were sub-surface drip irrigated every five to 10 days depending on climate and soil moisture content from mid-April to mid-September in 2006 and 2007.
Weed Control
Following plant establishment at all sites, weed control consisted of pre and post-emergent herbicides and mechanical cultivation as needed. At the Research Center, hand hoeing was also used extensively in the forb plots as no post emergent herbicides are available for use in broadleaf crops.
Replicated Studies
At the Research Center two replicated studies were conducted, an irrigation study and a spacing study. Both studies were randomized complete block designs with six species and three replications for each treatment (see Table 2 Research Center – Replicated Plots for species list). The irrigation study had a total of 36 plots and the spacing study a total of 54 plots. Seed was harvested using a handheld “Prairie Habitat Seed Stripper”, (Prairie Habitat Inc., P.O. Box 10, Argyle, Manitoba, Canada R0B0C0,, or by hand depending on whether the seed matured sporadically or simultaneously on all the plants within each plot.
Irrigation Study
The irrigation study examined yield differences between partial and full season irrigations. Plants were spaced 0.6 m (24 in.) apart within rows and 0.76 m (30 in.) apart between rows. The seedlings were transplanted into the plots in the spring of 2005. The year seedlings were transplanted, approximately 95% of the transplants remained in the vegetative growth stage and approximately 5% did produce flowers late in the season but did not produce seed in 2005. Yield data collection was done in 2006 and 2007. There were 18 plots (six species x three replications) for the two irrigation treatments for a total of 36 plots. All irrigations for both partial and full season irrigations were simultaneous until termination of the partial season irrigation at seed maturity, approximately mid-June 2005 through 2007. The plots were irrigated for the same duration of time on the same days from the beginning of the irrigation season until the partial irrigation treatment was shut off each year. All plots received irrigation every five to ten days depending on climatic and soil moisture conditions. The full season irrigation treatment continued to be irrigated every five to ten days after seed harvest.
Spacing Study
The spacing study examined yield differences between three different plant spacings, 0.45, 0.60 and 0.76 m, (18, 24, and 30 in.) by six species by three replications for a total of 54 plots. The seedlings were transplanted into the plots in the spring of 2005. The year seedlings were transplanted, approximately 95% of the transplants remained in the vegetative growth stage and approximately 5% did produce flowers late in the season but did not produce seed in 2005. Yield data was collected in 2006 and 2007. All plots received irrigation every five to ten days depending on climatic and soil moisture conditions.
Life History Plots
The Life History Plots (LHP) were established to: a) study, observe, catalog and evaluate season-long plant development stages, b) evaluate yields on larger than replicated plot sizes, c) evaluate cultivation methods that could be adopted by grower-cooperators in order to improve production efficiency, d) determine longevity and cropping history of each of the species and e) develop flowering and harvesting time lines in order to better manage suites of species so as not to have overlapping harvest times that may overly tax grower-cooperator resources. The LHP ranged in size from 0.03 ha (0.1 ac) to 0.3 ha (0.7 ac) (Table 3, in Results section). The size of each LHP was determined by transplant and seed availability at the time of plot initiation.
Seed Harvest
Seed was harvested at grower-cooperators and the Research Center when approximately 80% of the seed was ripe so as not to loose seed yield from species that shatter easily and/or early. The range of harvest dates for each species and year are illustrated in Appendix A (not included in online report). Harvested seed was air dried on plastic tarpaulins in an enclosed building with air circulation. Dried seed was removed from husks and stems using a custom hammer mill then cleaned using a Clipper Eclipse 324 seed cleaner (Clipper Separation Technologies, 1440 S. Adams St., Bluffton, IN 46714, Cleaned seed was then weighed to determine seed yield from each of the grower-cooperator plots, replicated study plots and from LHP.
Bi-monthly visits by the PI and/or Research Technician were conducted at each of the grower-cooperators in order to inspect fields, catalog plant growth and maturity and exchange management information on an on-going basis throughout the study.

Information/Data Collected
Once species growth began each spring, notes on plant development and pictures of each species were taken for all species on a weekly basis through fall dormancy to establish baseline information and growth, development and life history data. The photo and notes on the life histories of each species’ development are included in the electronic copy of this report.

Research results and discussion:

Seed production and harvests on the Herz and Roberts fields were made in 2005 and 2006, by 2007, however, the stands of native grasses had almost completely died out and no yields were realized (Table 4). The die out may have been due to weed competition, despite the use of multi-approach weed control and eradication methods, or possibly due to the short-lived nature of perennial wild-collected seed sources. Direct seeding at the Hines field produced significant amounts of BRMA in 2007 (Table 4). Although the Rogers field had good germination from direct seeding, no seed was harvested due to intense weed competition regardless of the weed control method used.

Table 3. Life history plot yields 2005 – 2007.

Species Year Plot
started Size Yield (kg/ha)
(ha) 2005 2006 2007
BRMA 2005 0.16 V* 4.0 56.0
ELEL 2005 0.02 V 57.8 31.5 ELSA 2006 0.05 – V 12.5 KOMA 2004 0.06 5.4 55.7 55.0
POFE 2004 0.13 4.5 0 4.2

ACLA 2004 0.17 295.4 4.5 0
ERSP 2004 0.10 200.1 75.9 29.6
ERUM 2005 0.12 V 73.1 301.2
HEBO 2005 0.28 V 51.0 21.7
LILE 2005 0.03 V 121.7 0
PECY 2005 0.05 V 83.8 68.5
* V = the year seedlings were transplanted they remained in the vegetative growth stage and did not yield seed.

Table 4. Native seed yields at grower-cooperators.

Yield (Kg/ha)
Grower 2005
Herz 1.9 0.4 1.9 NA* DNS# NA
Roberts NA NA 3.7 3.7 DNS NA
Herz 12.4 6.3 1.2 NA DNS NA
Roberts NA NA 0.8 1.5 DNS NA
Hines 810 DNS DNS NA NA 0
* NA = species not planted at location.
# DNS = transplants or seeded plants did not survive past first year.

All four grower-cooperators did have major challenges with weed control, even after a full year of weed eradication prior to transplanting or seeding. This was probably due to several reasons. Native plants do not compete well with invasive weeds, one year of weed eradication may be insufficient to allow native plants to establish well under competitive situations, and/or new supplies of weed seeds were probably introduced with the irrigation water as the water sources are from open ditches. The Hines farm had a large yield of BRMA in 2007 probably due to the continuous weed control practices followed for the years prior to seeding as the Hines farm was in cultivated row crops and not hay production as the other grower-cooperators.

Research Center
Irrigation Study
All results discussed below for the irrigation study can be found in Table 5. The irrigation study showed significant yield differences between years, therefore, each year was evaluated separately. For the KOMA, the results show that the full season irrigation treatment yielded significantly higher each year compared with the irrigation until seed maturity treatment. Although yields in 2007 were much lower than in 2006, suggesting the stand may be in decline. The POFE did not have seed yield in 2006 due to the rapid onset of hot weather at the initiation of seed fill which caused the plant to stop all seed production. This may suggest that the elevation of the Research Center may be too low, 1675 m (5500 ft), to have consistent POFE production due to warmer climatic conditions compared to higher elevations. In 2007, the POFE yielded significantly higher in the irrigation until seed maturity treatment than the full season treatment. This may because prolonging the irrigation season also prolongs growth later into the fall and the plant may be too vigorous during the onset of cold weather and suffer winter damage. The ERUM showed no significant difference between treatments in either year; however, seed yields in 2007 were approximately seven times larger than in 2006. These results match our observations that the plants are getting larger each year and appear to be getting more vigorous each year. In both 2006 and 2007, the PECY showed significantly higher yields in the irrigation until seed maturity treatment versus the full season irrigation although yields declined in both treatments in 2007 from 2006.
Spacing Study
Results of the spacing study show decreasing yields from year to year, except for the ERUM (Table 6). The spacing study examined the possibility that plants might yield more as in-row spacing increased, possibly allowing the plants to grow larger and produce more seed. However, wider spacing also reduces the number of plants on a per hectare basis but the results are inconclusive at this time. The three in-row spacings examined in this study were 0.45, 0.60 and 0.76 m (18, 24, and 30 in.). The KOMA yielded significantly higher in the closest spacing in 2006 and in the middle spacing in 2007 (Table 6). The reason for this difference is not known. In 2007, the POFE yielded significantly higher at the middle spacing. As with the irrigation study, the ERUM yielded significantly higher in 2007 than in 2006 with significantly higher yields at the narrow spacing in 2007. Yield results varied in the PECY each year with higher yields in the narrow spacing in 2006 and higher yields in the middle spacing in 2007. Yields were markedly lower in 2007 than in 2006, the reason for this decline is not known (Table 6).

Table 5. Research Center irrigation study yields.

Yield (kg/ha)
Irr. 2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007
Maturity 48b* 35b 0 21 15a 108a 97a 51a

Season 57a 41a 0 9b 13a 96ab 87b 48b
* Letter followed by a different within a column indicates significant difference between treatments (p < 0.10). Table 6. Research Center spacing study yields. Species KOMA POFE ERUM PECY
Yield (kg/ha)
Spacing 2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007
0.45 55a* 31b 0 6b 19a 125a 128a 39b
0.60 49b 35a 0 21a 15b 109b 97b 51a
0.76 19c 23c 0 4b 18a 79c 64c 23c
* Letter followed by a different within a column indicates significant difference between treatments (p < 0.10).

Research conclusions:

The impact of the results of this project are many, from the critical knowledge and experience gained by grower-cooperators and researchers alike, as to the steps involved in establishing native plants in cultivated fields. Other measurable impacts and outcomes are that the participation of grower-cooperators is continuing and expanding along with the understanding by all parties of the multi-year effort needed to establish native plant fields. The significant increase in seed yield using knowledge gained early on in the study and implemented at the Hines Farm shows marked improvements in methods corresponding to improvements in resultant seed yields. Our greater understanding of the growth and development of native plants under cultivated conditions and the timing of seed production based on regular observations over the three years of the study has greatly improved management. Seed produced by the project has begun to be used in research areas on the Plateau under natural conditions. The Research Center has also developed protocols for handling and cleaning the native seed, each protocol being species specific. And finally, the extensive knowledge and information gained through this grant/study has been made available through the Native Plant Program webpages ( on the UP Project website (
The knowledge gained from the experiences of this project are being used to overcome the challenges of weed control. The understanding of early harvest times for cool season species and how dramatically the climate effects plant growth and development has been a key step to improving management practices. As mentioned earlier, weed control during the year prior to planting and during the growing season was a large challenge for grower-cooperators due to many factors. Except for the Hines Farm, the other growers were converting hay fields to native plant fields. The hay fields did not make ideal environments to start native plantings due to the weed pressure, however, by adding a second year of weed control prior to establishing native plantings the weed control issues may have been significantly reduced. The establishment of the life history studies have illustrated the short-lived nature of many of the species when grown under cultivated conditions and allow adjustments and changes in management to be allowed for improved seed yields on a more consistent basis.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Publications for this project include an article in the Denver Post on June 19, 2007, about the native plant program titled: “Farmers sowing seed money: From bottlebrush squirrel tail to little bluestem, native grasses are a cash-cropping up to help.” This article featured Project grower-cooperators and the PI among other native plant growers. Two publications on the results of this project are currently being planned. The first publication will be on methods and protocols for growing native plants for seed production. This article will include the species that have been successfully grown under cultivation and the problems associated with the species that have not been successful that need additional research, this publication is planned for the Native Plants Journal. The second publication that is being planned is a ‘Grower Guide’ for a CSU extension publication (it will also be available online) that will outline the steps that need to be taken by potential growers in order to successfully grow native plants for seed. This publication will include an enterprise budget so growers may estimate economic feasibility and sustainability. There has been extensive information published online throughout this project on the UP Project website ( with information on species grown, methods and protocols, life histories and general information about the Native Seed Production for Crop Diversification project.
The outreach for this project has included annual field days, either as a stand-alone field day at Research Station or as part of the UP Project field days. All the field days included extensive tours of the native plantings with interpretive information given to tour participants, prospective growers and interested citizens, as to cultivation practices and benefits to the community and environment as a result of the project.
Several outreach activities occurred as an extension of the Native Seed Production for Crop Diversification project. The PI was interviewed as part of Colorado Public Radio – Colorado Matter for a segment titled: “Farmers Turn to Native Grasses” that aired on July 6, 2007. The PI of the Project presented the first two years of data from the Project as a poster “Effects of row spacing and irrigation on seed production of native perennials” at the 9th Biennial Colorado Plateau Conference in Flagstaff, AZ on October 30, 2007. The PI has also presented information gained from the Project at workshops in the region for farmers, ranchers, homeowners and interested citizens as part of native plant education on enhancing native plant populations and their habitats.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The Life History plots at the Research Center were used for the economic analysis due to their larger size. However, the original objectives of these plots was to determine if the selected native species could be grown in cultivation with the economic analysis secondary. Due to the difficulties encountered by the grower-cooperators early in this study, the results do not lend themselves to economic analysis at this time (Table 4). The Hines Farm did show significant production in 2007 as mentioned earlier and was included in the analysis, however, since the results for the Hines Farm are just for one year, we must be cautious in extrapolating these results to future production.
The economic analysis for the species grown at the Research Center show losses for all the grasses and half of the forbs grown (Table 7). These results are probably due to the small plot size, the 50 – 70% efficiency of hand-harvesting and the wide, 60 cm (2 ft) plant spacing. Compared to results at Kenny Hines (Table 8), where the plot was larger and continuous seeding was used (12 seeds per 30 cm (1 seed per inch)) along with a combine for harvesting, these results proved much more efficient than hand-harvesting. A caveat is that the plots at the Research Center were not intended to be used as part of an economic feasibility exercise, but only to determine the feasibility of growing native plants under cultivated conditions. At the Hines Farm, the project had acquired sufficient seed and gained sufficient knowledge to research economic feasibility and a different planting technique to arrive at an economically viable method for native seed cultivation on a commercial scale.
The economic analysis of the plantings at the Research Center uses current seed prices gathered from various seed companies with price postings on their websites, yields are actual seed yields of pure live seed (PLS) extrapolated to a per hectare basis, and are as follows on a $/kg basis,
Grasses – BRMA $22, ELEL $88, ELSA $66, KOMA $33, POFE $209, and
Forbs – ACLA $53, ERSP $309, ERUM $353, HEBO $221, LILE $77, PECY $110. Costs used in the calculations are the average yearly costs incurred by the grower-cooperators during the three years of the project. The costs for a WEED or VEG year are costs incurred for field preparation, irrigation, weed cultivation and/or herbicide applications and are $3088/ha. In years with seed yield, the costs include the above costs plus the cost of harvesting, harvest labor, and seed cleaning and total $6570/ha. For each year Net Return ($/ha) was calculated as follows:

Net Return ($/ha) = (yield (kg/ha) x price ($/kg)) – cost ($/ha).

The “Total Net” (Table 7 & 8) is the cumulative net return for the three years of the study. The results show that none of the grasses grown at the Research Center proved economically feasible under the conditions mentioned above. The BRMA did prove economically feasible when grown at the Hines Farm over a three-year period (Table 8). Several forbs, on the other hand, did prove feasible at the Research Center, ACLA, ERSP, ERUM and PECY. Although the ACLA and ERSP only produced high volumes of seed for one year before yields declined (Table 7), the high production and high prices paid for the seed did offset the low production years. Growers could treat these two species as a biennial planting and plant a new field on an annual basis, so as to have a high yielding field of these species each year. The results show the ERUM seed yields are increasing with each successive year as plants are getting larger. The longevity of the plant is not known but is profitable in the first year of seed production and onward (Table 7). High seed prices for ERUM seed, due to very high demand could make this species an excellent choice for grower-cooperators. Aside from the initial vegetative growth year the PECY showed a profit each year. Seed yields were similar but not consistent for its two years of production and stand longevity is still questionable and will determine its viability for grower production.
In general, half of the forbs we studied show good potential for long-term sustainability and economic viability with a high value for growers for a farm crop diversification program. However, these assumptions will need to be tested on grower fields over the course of several years to see if they live up to their promise. Grasses on the other hand, did not show similar promise from work at the Research Center due to low yields and reasons mentioned above, however, work on grower fields appears promising as larger plantings allow for improved planting and harvesting techniques that contribute to long-term viability and economic sustainability.

Table 7. Cost analysis for native grasses and forbs species produced at the Research Center.

2005 2006 2007 Total
Species Yield Net Yield Net Yield Net Net
BRMA V* $-3088 4 $-6482 56 $-5335 $-14905
ELEL V $-3088 58 $-1472 32 $-3792 $- 8352
ELSA W# $-3088 V $-3088 13 $-5743 $-15007
KOMA 5 $-6391 56 $-4728 55 $-4751 $-15870
POFE 5 $-5627 0 $-3088 4 $-5690 $-14406

ACLA 295 $ 9063 5 $-6332 0 $- 3088 $- 357
ERSP 200 $55201 76 $16860 30 $ 2568 $ 74629
ERUM V $-3088 22 $ 1192 90 $ 25182 $ 23286
HEBO V $-3088 51 $ 4676 22 $- 1785 $- 198
LILE V $-3088 122 $ 2822 0 $- 3088 $- 3354
PECY V $-3088 84 $2,669 69 $ 982 $ 563
*V = vegetative growth year.
#W = weed control year.

Table 8. Cost analysis for native grass produced at the Hines farm.

2005 2006 2007 Total
Species Yield Net Yield Net Yield Net Net
BRMA W# $-3088 V* $-3088 810 $11250 $5074

Farmer Adoption

The results of this study show a steep learning curve for farmer adaptation, however, those farmers that were part of this Project are eager to continue with native plant seed production. A barrier to having new farmers beginning to growing native plants are the current record prices being paid for grain which will work against farmers converting land in the short-term. At the start of the study grain prices were low and barely at break-even levels which encouraged farmers to consider growing native plants as a way to boost income. Currently, high grain prices and the time needed to establish native seed plantings have dampened farmer enthusiasm for starting native planting. The UP Project will be continuing its efforts to encourage farmers to establish plantings for native seed production. In 2008, three of the grower-cooperators involved with this project will continue their planting at current levels or be increasing their acreage. One new grower-cooperator has agreed to begin the process of native plant establishment on several acres. The grower-cooperators are encouraged by what has been learned through this project and are optimistic of the long-range prospects for native plant seed production. Adaptation by other farmers will depend on the future successes realized by the current grower-cooperators and improvements in cultivation practices resulting from this project along with planned continued research in the area of native plant seed production. The continued high demand for native seeds by state and federal agencies is increasing the prices paid for native seed; this should further induce farmer adaptation in the long-term.


Areas needing additional study

Recommendations for future research are to study the effects of using a grain or no-till drill to seed fields in similar fashion to seeding grains, such as continuous, high-density plantings. This may significantly reduce or alleviate the need for in-season weed control because the native plants would likely out-compete weeds in high-density stands and positively impact seed yields.

Areas Needing Additional Study
The areas needing additional study in the native plant topic are the identification of native plant pollinators and predators. Many native plant species are host to specific pollinators and predatory insects which should be identified and studied so steps could be taken to enhance the pollinating population and be “on the lookout” for predatory species.
The plant response and effect on seed production of added soil fertility on native plant seed production is another area that should be studied.

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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.