Warm-season grass selection to balance forage production and wildlife management needs
There is a need to have productive agricultural management compatible with wildlife management, particularly on properties that are protected by wildlife habitat focused conservation easements. There are are tens of thousands acres of farmland that require regular mowing and maintenance to remain open, and there is an increasing need for productive agricultural land in New England.
The establishment of warm season grasses that can be harvested later in the season can provide both a nutritionally useful crop and a safe grassland nesting area for the early summer. The normal cool season grass hay crop in New England needs to be harvested early in the summer, which can conflict with nesting season. This project seeded four mixes of warm season grasses using two tillage methods on a property with a wildlife easement owned by the town of Lee NH.
The seedbed preparation and seeding at the prescribed rates was successful. Plot layout and treatment details are illustrated in the enclosed plot plan. Tillage was accomplished with an 8’ front mounted howard rotovator and rear mounted brillion coultipacker. The first pass for shallow (2-3” depth) and deeper tillage (6-8”) was done on May 19th. The second pass and seeding was done on May 25th.
The objective of the project is to be able to compare varieties and two tillage approaches and evaluate:
-How the varieties chose establish in a relatively typical abandoned hay field environment(soil health test attached) For this project there will be two planting methods and four seed mixes to evaluate varieties including Eastern Gamagrass, Indian Grass, Big Bluestem, and Switchgrass.
-if depth of tillage has an effect on the competitiveness of the warm season grass during the first year of establishment.
-If woodash treatments affect the result
The stages of the project as outlined in the proposal are:
Stage 1) Planning and procurement of appropriate varieties and amendments
Stage 2) Plot layout, planting and treatments
Stage 3) Observation and data collection
Stage 4) Analysis reporting and outreach
Stage one and two were completed as planned and as laid out in the attached plot plan.
Observation and outreach has begun with field days coordianted with NRCS, NH Audubon, the Nature Conservancy, UNH Cooperative Extension and the Town of Lee Conservation Commission.
Analysis of biomass and forage quality and reporting on that data is scheduled for after August 2013 to give time for establishment, and to replicate the expected harvest that would happen after the field nesting season.
The seed calibration and seeder setup was a significant challenge which required careful mixing and use of both small and large seedboxes on a Brillion sure stand seeder. The detailed setup will be documented as part of the final report. All seed treatments were also seeded WITH 30LBS OATS, AND 20% VIRGINIA WILD RYE. The nurse crop did facilitate the proper metering of the larger and fluffier seeds without the need for a native grass seed box.
Although challenging to identify in early stages of growth, NRCS agronomists and cooperative extension botanists were able to identify the establishment of the warm season species in the plots.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The outcomes and impacts for this trial will be largely unknown until the end of the 2013 growing season, however, the interest in the outcome and organizational involvement by conservation groups has already been well established. A workshop and field day was held in September 2012 including representatives from NRCS and NH Audubon to tour the plots and several other warm season trials(non-replicated) in the southern portion of NH. The Nature Conservancy is planning on replicating this SARE trial on a 30 acre field that they manage. NRCS and NH Fish and Game have agreed to help implement the new plots even before the results from this trial are known. The Nature Conservancy field is a much healthier soil, and will likely provide good contrast in conditions to the Town of Lee/Ford property. NH audubon is also working on similar aproaches and has test sites, but without any replication or controls. This project has already furthered the knowledge base in warm season grass establishment for both NH farmers and the conservation land holders.
Extension Associate Professor/Specialist, Wildlife
University of New Hampshire
Nesmith Hall 131 Main Street
Durham, NH 03824
Office Phone: 6038623594