Traditionally meadowfoam is planted in mid-October into a plowed or disked seedbed. We explored late planting, no-till and broadcast seeding, and straw residue management, as methods to reduce meadowfoam production costs and maximize the farm system benefits. The results built on the knowledge derived from the previous SARE grant. Late planting (mid-November) gave higher yields except when early flooding on poorly drained soils was a problem. Late planting also allows no-till operations using traditional seed drills. Drilling through straw residue that has been flailed and allowed to settle and weather is the safest straw management option.
1) Determine if seed and oil yields of late-planted no-till or broadcast meadowfoam, and full straw load plantings, compare to yields from traditionally planted meadowfoam. We tell our cooperators the agronomic factors of interest, but the growers decide which ones they would like to test on their farms. The exact establishment practices involved in each of the 4 entries on each farm are tailored to the specifics of the field, the farmer’s equipment, and cropping system.
2) Determine if weed and insect pest populations are lower when using new establishment methods In an earlier survey, seventy-three percent of meadowfoam growers that meadowfoam plays a significant role in their weed control program. The host specific pest, the Drosophilid fly Scaptomyza apicalis, has been a source of significant yield loss in the past.
3) Document production cost savings from the new establishment methods for each farm. This is done for the 4 entries at each farm trial using Enterprise Budget spreadsheets developed at Oregon State University.
4) Improve producer skills in: 1) producing meadowfoam using the new establishment practices, 2) managing their nitrogen fertilizer program and meadowfoam fly (MFF) control; and 3) economic analysis of production costs and returns.
5) Develop grower educational presentations and materials through collaborations with cooperating meadowfoam producers and the OMG (Meadowfoam Oil Seed Growers Association) production manager.
Meadowfoam (Limnathes alba) is a new oil seed crop domesticated in the mid 1970s, and first grown commercially in Oregon in the mid 1980s. Oregon farmers first organized in 1984 to grow meadowfoam, and reorganized in 1997. They formed the OMG, the Meadowfoam Oil Seed Growers, which is an open-enrollment cooperative corporation, and Natural Plant Products (NPP), that does the refining, marketing, and shipping of the meadowfoam oil. The oil, which has many potential uses because of is unique chemistry, is currently primarily used in the cosmetics and personal care products industry.
Meadowfoam is an excellent diversification component in the grass seed cropping system of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It is one of few currently available rotational crops in the winter water-saturated soils on the valley floor that do not have summer irrigation for row crops. Diversifying the system with this new crop allows: 1) enhanced control of weeds, insects and diseases; 2) field histories suitable for the production of certified grass seed; and 3) the beneficial redistribution of workloads and machinery demands. Weed control for the subsequent grass seed crop is a primary reason growers incorporate meadowfoam production into their cropping system. Meadowfoam is planted later in the fall than the grass seed crop and harvested earlier in the summer. Thus the major time and machinery inputs into the meadowfoam crop do not directly compete with the grower’s grass seed production workload. This project will facilitate the farmers incorporating the advantages of growing meadowfoam into their entire farming system.
The historical over-production of many commodity crops illustrates that simply increasing yields is not necessarily the solution to farm sustainability. This accentuates the importance of: 1) reducing production costs, 2) maximizing the farming system benefits of growing meadowfoam (weed, disease and insect control, work reduction and workload redistribution), and 3) supporting farmer participation in the value chain of what they produce.
No-till alone reduces the labor, equipment, and fuel consumption of conventional tillage. It also minimizes soil erosion from wind and water. The former can be severe, with fine soil particles obscuring visibility in the valley and creating health problems. No-till operations also allow access to fields in late fall that otherwise could not support heavy equipment. Further cost reductions and even later planting dates may be achieved by broadcasting meadowfoam using standard swamp buggy fertilizer spreaders. Delayed no-till planting of meadowfoam can further separate establishment tasks from the work associated with planting the grower’s primary crop-grass seed. However, some growers continue to plant in October, right after their grass seed crop is planted, in order have the psychological lift of being done with fall planting.
Most meadowfoam is planted following a grass seed crop. This rotation allows the use of grass herbicides to kill weedy grasses whose seed can cause the rejection of the following certified grass seed crop. Those growers who view meadowfoam as a key component in their farm system do so because of its role in their grass seed weed control program. However their choice of herbicides is limited and some weeds, grass and broadleaf, remain difficult to control. Late planting allows fall germinating broadleaf weeds and S-metolachor and clethodim resistant grass weeds to be controlled by glyphosate. For December plantings a grower may realize a cost savings by not having to use S-metolachor, for any grass weeds that sprout subsequent to the pre-emergence glyphosate spray can be controlled by the winter clethodim application.
The one insect pest of meadowfoam is the Meadowfoam Fly (MFF), Scaptomyza apicalis. The larvae feed in shallow tunnels within crown tissue, leaves, and flower buds. Meadowfoam flies are found in the field after the first fall rains and there are several generations during the growing season. There is no reliable economic injury threshold for this pest, in part because of conflicting results from small plot and farm scale trials. The general consensus is that at least one insecticide spray in needed in mid-winter to prevent significant yield loss. Delaying planting meadowfoam limits the exposure of the rosette to insect damage prior to the mid-winter application of insecticide, and may eliminate the occasional need for an additional early season application when fly populations are high.
This project explores the farm system benefits of delayed planting dates and planting methods for growing meadowfoam, as well as exploring their effects on pest pressures and yields.
Objective 1. Determine seed and oil yields. In 2005-06 the three on-farm trials included 4 entries: 1) the grower’s traditional planting method that will serve as the control; 2) a mid-November no-till planting, full straw load or baled depending on the grower rotation; 3) a mid-November broadcast seeding; and 4) a Grower’s Choice entry – what other comparison would make sense for their farm system. At Watson this was a early December no-till planting, at Kuenzi a mid-October no-till, full straw load; at Cersovski a November 1st full no-till, full straw load. In 2006-7 two on-farm trials tested 4 entries: mid-October versus mid-November plantings, and straw management methods. Mulkey tested whether he could eliminate flailing the straw residue. Staley tested whether baling straw or planting into a full straw load affected slug populations. The October, baled straw entry at Staley was a disked traditional planting. Watson, Kuenzi, and Staley planted into killed perennial ryegrass stands; the Cersovski and Mulkey fields had been in annual ryegrass for several years. Plots were 300 feet long, and 36 to 43 feet wide depending on the grower’s planter and sprayer boom widths. At each trial there were four replicates in a complete block design. Seed yields were taken using a weigh wagon, and oil content of the seed analyzed using NMR.
Meadowfoam yields are not particularly sensitive to moderate variation in plant density because plants grow larger in less dense stands. However, factors can affect seeding establishment to the extent that yields decline. Meadowfoam stand counts were taken to help explain the yield results.
Objective 2. Weed, insect, and slug populations. We monitored and compare the weed and MFF populations in the four entries at each farm. Weeds counts were taken in each plot twice, once in late February, just prior to the Clethodim (Select 2EC) application for volunteer and weed grasses, and just prior to harvest. In 2006-7 we also counted just the weeds with mature seeds, those being the plants of most interest to the grower. Cersovski (2005-6) did not apply Select 2EC because of a poor stand across the field, and continued flooding. Taking weed counts was therefore not applicable. MFF populations were monitored using yellow stick traps from late December through mid-April, the period of maximum exposure of the crop to MFF populations. Slug populations at Staley were monitored during late fall and winter using 18 by 18 cm plywood boards baited with dog food.
The only broadleaf herbicide registered for meadowfoam production is only effective against legumes (vetch, etc.) and the Composites (thistles, etc.). It was not used in any of the farm trials
Objective 3. Document production cost. In 2005-06 I modified the existing Meadowfoam Enterprise Spreadsheet to incorporate the new establishment methods, and used it to calculate the establishment cost of each entry. Fixed costs of the operation (machinery depreciation, interest payments, etc) were not included. The cost of the seed and any other expenses that would be the same for all the entries is not included in the calculate cost. The results were reviewed with each cooperator. In 2006-07 I modified the updated the draft version of the Annual Ryegrass Enterprise Spreadsheet to incorporate the operations of the new meadowfoam establishment methods. In this process I discovered that modifications to the spreadsheets to accommodate larger tractors, e.g., Staley’s 425 horsepower New Holland, does not incorporate the reduced fuel use when the tractor is pulling small implements. In addition, the potential increase in speed at which a particular tillage operation can be performed with a given tractor power, implement, and soil type, is not part of the spreadsheet. This information comes from a farmer’s own experience and is entered manually into the spreadsheet. Unless a farmer knows exactly how his tractor performs under a given set of tillage conditions, biases can be introduced into the analysis. Best guess estimates were made to accommodate these factors. Diesel fuel prices in the fall of 2006 averaged $2.75 gal, and calculations were made using this figure. However, the dramatic increase in fuel prices since that time means cost comparisons for the future should use higher prices. I ran the 2006-07 budgets again using diesel at $4.00 gal.
Objective 4. Improve producer skills. During the course of the planning and execution of the trials we discussed with our cooperators the rationale behind the nitrogen fertilization regime. We will use a late January soil test for ammonia, nitrate, and mineralizable nitrogen to predict, as best as possible given the limited data, the optimum amount of fertilizer to apply. In many fields following a grass seed crop, this means zero additional nitrogen. Nitrogen at three rates will be applied to a small portion of the field outside the main plot area so we can assess the impact of N-fertilization on the crop. Plans to instruct the growers on the potential for, and nature of, meadowfoam fly damage did not transpire because the OMG organization made the decision to spray most (or all) meadowfoam acreage for this pest. This reduced the host plant specific MFF populations to minimal levels throughout the meadowfoam-growing region.
Objective 5. Develop grower educational presentations. Since the grant was written the executive bodies of the OMG organization decided that it was important for the cohesiveness of the organization for the staff production manager / agronomist to be the primary source of information to the farmers that form the membership. OMG wanted their production manager to review the research by OSU researchers and others and make recommendations to growers as to what they considered to be the current best growing practices. In part this decision was driven by the fact that the organization has to be confident of their ability to meet their yearly production target. They were worried that promising but not yet thoroughly tested changes to established practices might result in significant lower yields. Accordingly, I communicated the results of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 studies to the cooperators and the OMG agronomist. I did not develop separate presentations for the full OMG membership as originally planned.
The most pertinent information from this study is reported here. Additional detail and information are documented in the annual reports.
Objective 1. Seed Yields. Growers are currently paid by seed weight, rather than the meadowfoam oil yield, so this report will concentrate on this parameter. Variation in seed yield as affected by agronomic factors is much higher than variation in seed oil content, so this emphasis on seed yield has biological significance. Percent oil content shows little, or no, effect from the new establishment methods examined in this and the prior WSARE project. Percent oil content and oil yields are reported in the tables that are associated with the hard copies of this report. Yields are reported in kg/ha. There is never a ‘best’ establishment method for all farms, so comparisons are on a by-farm basis. Significant differences report here are at the P<0.05 level. Several ‘unusual’ factors affected meadowfoam production at the three farms in 2005-06. 1) Mineralizable N in the soil, as measure in mid-winter, did not appear to become available during the time of meadowfoam N uptake, late February through March. This limited meadowfoam growth and yields. 2) Extensive flooding in December and January (½ the annual rainfall in one month) caused usually adequately drained fields to flood. Portions of the Cersovski field in particular were under inches of water for weeks at a time. 3) Problems with the fertilizer spreader that was used to broadcast seed the plots resulted in a 10-20% lower seeding rate. 4) There were unusual early December cold temperatures with lows in the high teens for days, conditions known to damage germinating broadcast seedlings. At Staley (2006-07) there were a series of problems during the establish phase that suggests these results are not transferable to other conditions. The most serious is the indication that the November planted plots were seeded at less than specified rate. There were also potential problems with low soil potassium and phosphorus levels in two of the blocks. The low soil pH, corrected with the addition of lime prior to planting, probably favored the disked entry where the lime was incorporated into the soil faster that in the no-till plots. Finally, as has been seen occasionally in previous years the mid-winter soil mineralizable nitrogen test was not a good predictor of nitrogen availability. One or a combination of these soil factors probably led to a stunted crop. Plant height at the end of flowering was 34 to 36 cm; highest yields are general achieved when the plants are 43-48 cm high. Seed Yields 2005-06: The Watson field, a hilly moderately drained field, suffered the least from flooding and the Nov. 15th no-till into full straw (FS) entry had the highest yields (1,520). The Dec 5th no-till FS (1,343), Oct.13th disked with straw baled off (BS) (1,309), and Nov. 17th broadcast FS entry (1,283), were not statistically different from each other (Table 1). The difference between the highest and lowest yields represents about $126.00/ac in additional profit. At Cersovski, a poorly drained field on the valley floor, only the Oct. 13th no-till baled straw entry did not suffer from poor establishment due to water pooling that started in early November. The yields of this entry (1,091) and the Oct. 31st no-till FS entry (967) were not statistically different. The Nov. 14th broadcast FS (888) and Nov. 14th no-till FS (884) suffered from poor germination and early survivorship due to early season flooding. The extreme winter flooding resulted in additional plant mortality. In the Nov. 14th planted entries the germination of seed in early spring when flooding subsided, followed by a late harvest, appeared to boost yields higher than expected given the patchy stands. Three problems at Kuenzi’s compromised the value of the results at this site. The straw was not flailed fine enough to settle between the perennial ryegrass crowns by fall planting. The regrowing grass crowns pushed up this straw resulting in poor crown kill by glyphosate and poor survivorship of the germinating meadowfoam. Second, the seeding rate of the mid-October planting was approximately half of the desired 25 lbs/ac. While this field is mostly on a slope and well drained, about 1/5 of the site at the foot of the hill suffered from water run off from the hill and adjacent fields. The highest seed yield was the Nov. 15th no-till FS (1,137). The Nov. 15th FS broadcast (954) and Oct. 16th no-till BS (881) were similar, followed by the Oct. 16th no-till FS (758). At Watson and Cersovski there was slight variation in percent oil, while there were no differences at Kuenzi. Differences in oil yield matched what was seen with seed yield. Seed Yields 2006-7: The Mulkey site entries ranged from a high Nov. 14th FS not-flailed (1,776) to Oct. 20th FS flailed (1,655), only these extremes were significantly different from each other. In treatment comparisons the Nov. 14th date entries had higher yields than the October (1,761 vs. 1,714), as did the not-flailed treatment (1,753 vs. 1,722); although both these differences were not significant. The “higher” yields in the not-flailed straw treatment may be related to the fact that some of this straw was still on the ground in May, acting as a mulch to keep the soil’s wetter during flowering and seed fill. These two entries were significantly higher than the flailed entries, 35.7 cm and 33.6 cm respectively. Broadcast seeding the two border plots results in an average seed yield of 1,554. Percent oil was not affect by treatment, ranging from 30.3% to 30.8%. The sudden onset of heavy rains in early November resulted in the soil at close to water saturation by the November 14th planting date, with standing water in the lowest areas. While this did not lead to lower yields, meadowfoam plants failed to establish in the areas with standing water, highlighting the risks of late planting in areas at risk of fall flooding. Broadcast seed can germinate and grow on water-saturated soils, but not flooded areas. However, the exposed broadcast seedlings are susceptible to injury from drying if planted before the onset of regular rains, and freezing temperature in late fall. At the Staley site seed yields varied with establishment method, the highest was the traditional method (1,151), which was statistically higher than the other 3 entries. The Nov. 9th FS flailed (1,001), Oct. 19th FS flailed (950), and the Nov. 9th baled plots (850) seed yields were not different from the adjacent mean. Flailing the straw versus baling did not appear have an impact of yields. The disked entry would have incorporated the lime into the soil, and changed the pH faster than the surface application in the no-till plots. This may account of the higher yield (and larger plants) in these plots. Problems with the low plant density in November planted entries definitely reduced yields in this treatment. There were no differences in percent oil at either site, ranging from 30.3 to 30.8 at Mulkey, and 25.8 to 26.5 at Staley. Meadowfoam Stand Counts 2005-6: At Watson the Oct. 13th disked BS entry had the highest density of meadowfoam (198.8 /m2), yet had a lower yield than the Nov. 15th no-till FS, which had a density (151.3 /m2). The low yield in the Nov. 15th broadcast FS is probably due to the low density of meadowfoam plants in this entry (93.3/m2) (Table 2). At Cersovski the Oct.13th no-till BS had the highest meadowfoam density (232.8/m2) because it had established before the flooding started. The densities of the next three entries, the Nov. 14th broadcast FS (148.5/m2), Nov. 14th no-till FS (132.0/m2), and Oct. 31st no-till FS (124.5/m2), did not differ significantly. This corresponded to the lack of difference in seed yields of these entries, but the ranking of yields and plant density were not the same. The final meadowfoam plant density in these entries was probably different because of the mortality of plants due to flooding subsequent to the density survey, and the germination of seedlings in late winter after the flooding subsided. At Kuenzi the Oct. 16th planted entries were seeded at about ½ the desired rate of 25 lbs per acre. The Nov. 15th no-till FS entry had the highest plant density (132.5/m2), and corresponded to the highest yield. Surprisingly, the entry with the lowest meadowfoam density, the Nov. 15th broadcast FS (40.4/m2), had the second highest yield. Lower plant density, while alleviated to some extent by compensation in increased individual plant growth, opens the stand to weed growth. Meadowfoam Stand Counts 2006-7. Even though yields from the November plants plots were higher at Mulkey’s, the Nov. 14th planting had significantly lower plant density than the October planting, 232.9 and 189.0 plants/m2 respectively. This lower density was most likely related to the water saturated soil at the time of germination. Not flailing the straw residue did not affect meadowfoam density. This result differs from last year’s poor establishment at Kuenzi, probably due to the fact that the straw mat at Kuenzi’s was even higher, having been pushed up by the growing perennial ryegrass crowns. At Staley our apparent failure to get a consistent seeding rate confounded the data on seedling germination and emergence as affected by the planting date and straw treatments. Average meadowfoam density in the Oct. 18th planted entries was 186.7 plants/m2, while the Nov. 9th planted plots had 112.9 plants/m2. This extreme planting date effect in no-till operations, in the absence of flooding, has not been experienced in the previous six years of planting date studies. The seed for the November planting had sat in the drill since the October planting and may have impeded moisture; which would have reduced the actual seeding rate. Objective 2. Weed and MFF populations 2005-6. At Watson the pre-Select 2EC application grass population counts were lowest in the Nov. 17th broadcast seeded plots, but only significantly lower than the Dec 5th planting, 0.2 and 9.3 plants/m2, respectively Because of low grass populations neither the Nov. 17th or Dec 5th seeding received the pre-emergent herbicide Dual Magnum for extended grass germination control This extended the potential cost benefits of this practice from just the early-December planting, where we have found it be unnecessary. Prior to harvest, weed counts were lowest in the Oct. 13th disked and baled straw treatment. This was most likely because meadowfoam biomass was greatest in these plots and more effectively shaded germinating grasses. There was no difference in the number of broadleaf weeds at harvest, the entries ranged from 0.0 to 0.25 plants/m2. At Kuenzi, weed populations were highly inversely correlated with the density of meadowfoam plants, whether that low density was due to a low seeding rate or the poorly flailed full straw load. Entries with low meadowfoam densities, Oct. 13th full baled straw and Nov. 15th broadcast full straw load, had significantly higher grass and broadleaf weed populations at both survey dates. Populations of the host specific insect pest, the Drosophilid fly Scaptomyza apicalis, were too low to show a significant pattern related to planting date and method. The low populations are probably primarily due to the fact that most / all meadowfoam acreage is now being sprayed for the fly, unlike the years when few growers sprayed and the fly regularly reached damaging densities. Weed, MFF, and slug populations 2006-07. At Mulkey both planting date and straw management affected the grass and broadleaf weed populations in the plots. The Oct. 20th planting date had much higher grass population (mostly volunteer annual ryegrass) just prior to the late winter Clethodim application, 498.8 and 27.3 plants/m2, respectively. This is in part due to the fact that there was little rain in October and germination of both meadowfoam and grass seed was delayed past the effectiveness of the pre-emergent herbicides. The flailed plots had more grass weeds than the not-flailed entries, 348.6 and 177.4 plants/m2, respectively. It appears that the higher straw layer in the not-flailed plots inhibited the establishment of the grasses, but not meadowfoam. Just prior to harvest (post-Clethodim application) the same pattern was present although the overall density of grass weeds was much lower, ranging from 0.9 to 2.5 plants/m2. There were more broadleaf weeds prior to harvest in the flailed plots than the not-flailed, 2.1 and 0.6 plants/m2, respectively. However, when just grass and broadleaf weeds with mature seeds are counted there were no treatment related differences, with plant densities ranging from 0.0 to 0.2 plants/m2. Prior to the Clethodim application at Staley there were more grass weeds in the Oct. 18th planted plots than the Nov. 9th planted entries, 270.0 vs. 46.7 plants/m2, respectively. This is due to the later herbicide applications in the November planted plots. Straw management did not appear to affect weeds populations. Prior to harvest there was no difference among grass weed populations in the four entries. Broadleaf populations were higher in the Oct. 18th planted entries. Chickweed, shepard’s purse, and knotweed were the most common broadleaf weeds. There were no differences in the population of grasses that had mature seeds. However, the disked plots had higher broadleaf weed populations with mature seed than the no-tilled flailed straw plots, 30.3 and 7.0 plants/m2, respectively. There were no differences in the number of mature broadleaf weeds between the Nov. 9th planted baled and full straw flailed plots, 1.7 and 1.2 plants/m2 respectively. With the meadowfoam growers’ cooperative having established a policy of routinely spraying for the meadowfoam fly, this insect was not a factor in these trials. Slug populations at Staley were very low, ranging from 0 to 3 slugs per board, with no indication that the establishment treatments had an effect. Slug populations are known to “crash” for undetermined reasons, which may explain the low slug numbers this year. Conversely, populations of slugs are very heterogeneous across grass seed fields and the location of the plot area may not have been a high slug population area. Objective 3. Economic analysis. Traditional meadowfoam seedbed preparation, when meadowfoam production follows annual ryegrass, involves flailing the straw residue, followed by plowing it into the ground, harrowing and rolling. After a perennial grass seed crop, with the straw baled off for sale, the crowns are killed with glyphosate and the soil often just disked and rolled prior to planting. No-till plantings still requires flailing the grass straw residue, but there are no other tillage operations. Planting later in the fall usually requires a late October pre-plant glyphosate application to control the sprouting ryegrass, occasionally two if planting in early December. However, December plantings and in mid-November planted fields with minimum sprout, S-metolachlor (Dual Magnum) is not needed for extended grass sprout control. For meadowfoam following annual ryegrass in 2005-06, costs per acre associated with flailing, tillage, and herbicides applications are as follows for the typical operations for each category: traditional seedbed preparation $57.25; mid-October no-till planting into a full straw load $26.33; mid-November no-till planting into a full straw load $38.79; early-December no-till planting into a full straw load $28.29 (Table 7). Actual planting costs (seed, labor, and equipment) are roughly the same and are not part of these cost comparisons. Two modifications to typical operations are: 1) not using S-metolachlor on the mid-November planting will save $8.97; 2) an additional pre-plant glyphosate sprout burn down will cost $5.47. Broadcast seeding using a fertilizer buggy will save $6.30 compared to no-till drilling. Similar savings are associated with planting meadowfoam following perennial ryegrass production. At Mulkey in 2006-7 meadowfoam production following annual ryegrass using traditional establish practices (if done) would have cost $55.88 /ac in fall of 2006. The October planted twice-flailed entry would have cost $32.10, while eliminating the flailing operation would lower the cost to $15.06. Delaying planting to mid-November would require an additional glyphosate application costing $9.14 per acre, but would give better weed control and frequently higher yields. Broadcast seeding using a fertilizer buggy are estimated to save $7.15 compared to no-till drilling. For a 50 acre field, cost savings compared to the traditional planting method are for the four entries: mid-October flailed $1,189; not-flailed $2,041; and mid-November planted flail $732); not-flailed $1,584. With diesel at $4.00 gal the calculated cost per acre for planting using the traditional method is $65.36. The October planted twice-flailed no-till entry would cost $36.26, without flailing the cost is $15.19. The additional glyphosate application for November planting costs an additional $9.27. For a 50 acre field cost savings compared to the traditional planting method are for the four entries: mid-October flailed $1,455); not-flailed $2041; and mid-November planted flailed $992; not-flailed $2,052. While there are some operation differences between establishing meadowfoam in annual ryegrass versus perennial ryegrass, the biggest involves whether the straw is baled for sale or left on the field. Many growers now believe that the advantages of leaving perennial grass straw residue on the fields for its nutrient content outweighs the price they get for selling straw for animal nutrition. The value of the nutrients in an acre of perennial ryegrass straw (2.5 tons) was approximately $55 in 2005-06 (Hart et al. 2006). This compares to an average price of $50 – $60 per acre that growers receive for the straw. However, the increase in petroleum prices also increases fertilizer prices, and the calculated price for the amount of nutrients in an acre of perennial ryegrass straw in 2008 is $90 (Hart et al. 2008). The price farmers receive for their straw is also increasing as more farmers leave straw on the field and there is more demand for inexpensive forage. The average 2008 price is not yet available, but it could easily be in the $75 /ac range. If a grower fails to consider the price of the nutrients in the straw they are selling, it will skew the true economic comparison of using different establishment methods. For example, a 2005-06 mid-November no-till planting into a straw baled perennial ryegrass field is calculated to return $3.80 to the grower, if the lost nutrients are not considered. However, if the nutrients are replaced with fertilizer the true cost of this establishment method is $51.50 /ac. At 2008 prices for fuel, fertilizer and straw these costs are $12.74 /ac return to the farmer versus a cost of $77.26 /ac when straw nutrient content loss is considered. The prices for other species of perennial grass straw are higher, as are their nutrient content. In addition to the cost of establishment, expected yields using the different methods, effectiveness of weed control, and flooding and freezing risks, need to be considered when determined the best establishment date and method for a particular field. Objective 4. Improving producer skills. Interactions with the growers during the meadowfoam trials on each farm took place throughout the year, and allows for a two-way exchange of information that will enable growers and researchers to make more informed decisions on meadowfoam production practices. While the focus of this research is on establishment practices (no-till versus prepared seed bed, timing of planting, how to handle straw residue), decisions on winter fertilization rates and meadowfoam fly control are other topics of importance. The production manager/agronomist of the meadowfoam growers’ organization (OMG) now assists most/all growers with these later decisions. However, good growers use many sources of information, so our discussions with the growers on these topics are play a role in their understanding of the issues. Grower to grower communication is a primary source of information when it comes to farmer’s learning about production techniques, so this information is passed on to other farmers. Objective 5. Develop grower educational presentations. Since the grant was written the executive and advisory bodies of the OMG organization decided that it was important for the cohesiveness of the organization for the staff production manager / agronomist to be the primary source of information to the farmers that form the membership. OMG wanted their agronomist to review the research by university researchers and others, document the successful practices of OMG growers, and make recommendations as to what they considered to be the current best growing practices. In part this decision is driven by the fact that the organization has to be confident of their ability to meet yearly production target. OMG carefully tries to match current production with near term demands in order to minimize the time the grower-owners have to wait for payment. OMG is worried that promising, but not yet thoroughly tested, changes to established practices might result in significant lower yields in a given year. Accordingly, I communicated the results of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 studies the cooperators and the OMG production manager. I did not develop separate presentations for the full OMG membership as originally planned.
Because of differences in the soils and drainage in different fields, there is no one best set of establishment practices. Even establishment methods that are suitable in an average year may not lead to satisfactory establishment and yields in wet years, or years with an unusually dry fall. However there are certain patterns that were seen over the two years of this study and the two years of the preceding Western SARE grant.
Once the soil is moist from fall rains regular grain drills work as well as no-till drills in planting meadowfoam. Meadowfoam seed yield can be affected by changes in establishment methods, while percent seed oil shows much smaller variation. Differences in oil yield are mostly affected by seed yield, not percent oil content. In the absence of water saturate soils and flooding at the time of planting, or shortly afterwards, mid-November plantings tend to give the highest seed yields. The possible exception is meadowfoam grown at the highest elevations in the valley, e.g., Staley. Mid-October planted meadowfoam plants are larger than the November plantings, so the reason for the higher yields in smaller plants is complex. Limited data suggest that this effect may partly be related to resource allocation between the vegetative and flowering parts of the plant. In addition, the larger October plants are more susceptible to lodging which can lead to reduced yields due to disease and poorer pollination. December plantings always yield less than the earlier plantings, unless excess nitrogen causes lodging in the earlier plantings. Early December planting should be reserved for well drained soils when Select 2EC resistant grass weeds are present, or a poor September planted grass seed field needs replanting.
On poorly drained soils on the valley floor mid-November planting can place the meadowfoam stand at risk. Even when yields are higher than a mid-October planting (Mulkey) the bare spots in mid-November plantings, where water had started to puddle by the planting date, are susceptible to weed infestations. This is particularly significant if weed grasses such as rat-tailed fescue are present in the field. With consideration for the rain forecast, a grower in these areas should plant when the first volunteer grass sprout is up, and soils are moist enough to plant no-till.
A broadcast planting has several risks associate with it. In general, seed germination rates are lower when on the surface than when the seeds are drilled. If seed is broadcast before regular fall rains arrive, seedlings are at risk for drying before the roots are firmly in the ground. While temperatures lower than the high 20o F are uncommon in the fall, seedlings from mid-November and December broadcasts are susceptible to freeze injury under these conditions. On the plus side, broadcast seed on the soil or straw mat surface will germinate when the soil is water saturated. However, when this occurs the lower spots in the field frequently have standing water, which preclude meadowfoam establishment.
No-till drilling through a settled mat of flailed straw is almost always successful. Planting later than the traditional mid-October date reduces the risk associated with planting into a full straw load because of the early fall degradation of this straw mat. Problems arise in parts of the field where the combine operation in the previous grass crop leads to very thick piles of straw. Careful combining to spread the straw evenly, and / or an extra flail operation in these thick straw areas minimizes these problems. Not flailing the straw is still a risky decision, even though Mulkey had success with it. It should not be tried following a perennial grass crop when spraying to kill the grass crowns is required as part of the establishment operation. If planting into full straw load on a perennial grass seed field the flailing operation should chop the straw in small enough pieces to fall between the rows of grass crowns.
Better fall weed control is achieved by waiting to plant to mid-November. The mid-October sprout burn down (required in late October when rainfall is average), followed by the pre-emergent herbicides 4-5 days after planting, kills off another month of germinating weeds. However, the smaller biomass of the later planted meadowfoam provides less completion to winter germinating grasses and broadleaf weeds. If broadleaf weeds are a problem in a field it is important to get a high biomass stand by late February. In this case mid-October may be the best planting date since the density of meadowfoam is always greatest in these entries.
Generally, the greater the soil disturbance during planting the greater the weed pressure, particularly for broadleaf weeds. Disked / plowed entries tend to have more broadleaf weeds than the no-till entries, and broadcast plantings have the fewest. If broadleaf weeds are a significant problem in a given field this might be a consideration in selecting the seeding method.
The Select 2EC application in late February kills off the grasses that germinate after the pre-emergence herbicides, and results in most subsequent germinating grasses not having time to mature seed by the time of the meadowfoam harvest. The exceptions are some of the early flowering weed grasses. Small plot trials in 2002-3 suggest that no-till planted meadowfoam may be more susceptible to herbicide residues from the previous grass seed crop (WSARE SW02-052).
Educational & Outreach Activities
Manuscripts are in preparation for OSU publications and agronomic journals.
Significant saving can be achieved by adapting the new establishment practices, from $700 to $2,000 for a 50-acre meadowfoam field planted after annual ryegrass. At diesel prices of $4.00 gal these savings run from $1,000 to $2,500 per 50 acres. See Results and Discussion section for the details on specific establishment practices.
However, a farmer’s decisions on establishment method involve more than just immediate cost / return considerations. In many cases they are thinking beyond the meadowfoam crop to the grass seed crop that will follow. Weed control is a major consideration. The economic benefits of improved weed control due to growing a meadowfoam crop are thought to be significant by farmers, even though they have not quantified the benefit. Risks of a poor stand of meadowfoam, and subsequent invasion of volunteer grasses and weeds, also affect decisions.
As I learned while working with my cooperators and other farmers, personal and family considerations (family economics) also influence planting decisions. The desire to be finished with fall planting, and have the drill cleaned and parked, does influence the decisions of some farmers. More that one grower has said, “Mid-November, that is when I go elk hunting.” Flailing is a job that can be done by a young high school aged son or daughter, and sometimes things get done just so they can earn some spending or college money. Eliminating a planting task, thus allowing time of more important farm chores, or personal time, can also drive decisions. The cost savings of the new planting methods can be considerable, especially with the recent increase in fuel prices, but is only one of factors that go into making a decision. Farm economics and family economics are intertwined.
The OMG production manger reported that last year 65% of the approximate 3,500 acres of meadowfoam was planted no-till. This represents about 31 growers. The preceding year about 5,000 acres was planted so the impact can be greater. The 65% figure has changed little over the two years of this study, so it appears that most of the current adaptors of the new methods changed from traditional planting within the first few years for being exposed to the new planting methods.
However, not all perennial grass fields are suitable for a meadowfoam crop without plowing. For example, tall fescue that is 3-4 years old has crowns so large that plowing is generally necessary to ensure a good seedbed. Tall fescue is a major crop in the largest meadowfoam region in the Willamette Valley, so a certain percentage of the meadowfoam acreage will not be planted no-till for that reason alone. In addition, a rotation to meadowfoam for a year is frequently used to prepare a field for the next grass seed crop cycle. Part of that preparation may involve tillage, not for the meadowfoam, but for the subsequent grass seed crop.
The production manager also reports some growers are baling their annual ryegrass straw (which has no forage market), so they do not have to contend with the residue. This suggests that they are having problems with some aspect of straw management. I suspect it may be that these growers are planting in October, and do not have the benefit of several weeks of straw degradation after the rains start in the fall. It may also be due to the thick piles of straw that can build up when the combine turns or stops. Flailing twice is an expensive operation ($21.07/ac), about 2/3rds the cost of baling straw (about $32.00/ac). The eleven dollar difference may be worth if they have had establishment problems when planting into a full straw load, such as those planting early to avoid late fall field flooding.
Suggestions to growers in choosing their best new establishment methods are in the Impact of Results/Outcomes section.
Areas needing additional study
Planting into a full straw load appears to be a significant difficulty right now. As mentioned above, waiting to plant until the straw mat has begun to degrade may be important. This wait may involve some stand establishment risk if the soils are poorly drained and the onset of heavy rain is sudden. Combining the grass seed crop with the intent of evenly distributing the straw will help to eliminate small areas of heavy straw. Interviewing growers who are not yet no-till planting, rarely no-till plant, or do not plant into a full straw load, should provide information on what challenges they face in changing establishment methods.
Hart J., Mellbye. M., and Horneck, D. 2006 Nutrients in grass seed and straw. Crop and Soil News/Notes. Extension Unit of the Dept. of Crop and Soil Science, Oregon State University. Vol. 20. No. 2:7-9.
Hart J., Mellbye. M., and Young, B. 2008 Nutrients in grass seed and straw. Crop and Soil News/Notes. Extension Unit of the Dept. of Crop and Soil Science, Oregon State University. Vol. 23. No. 3:3.