Can Producers in Five Montana Counties Successfully Use No-Till Methods for Renovation of Irrigated and Dryland Pastures?

Project Overview

FW08-016
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $29,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Ron Carlstrom
MSU Extension- Gallatin County
Co-Investigators:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: pasture renovation, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health

    Summary:

    No-till practices have been incorporated into small grain production for many years, and the group was interested to see if these same practices could be implemented into hay and pasture rotations. The producers wanted to see if they could do a no-till program on their pasture and hay renovations with their existing equipment or equipment readily available locally.

    The project coordinator and technical advisors believe implementing knowledge gleaned from replicated research is a key component to successful farm and ranch operations. However, when that research is implemented at the individual farm/ranch level, producers need to be able to make adjustments to fit their constraints. The project demonstrated stand termination by herbicides, forage crops for rotation and no-till establishment of both annual and perennial forages in the system. The cooperator producers and county agents were interested in seeing how a no-till system could work with their current equipment constraints.

    Producers found they could incorporate no-till principals into their current operations. Results from the implementation were varied based on environmental factors, machinery compliments, outside influences and labor constraints.

    Introduction

    In south-western Montana, optimum management of pastures and hay crops is critical for sustaining healthy landscapes. Southwest Montana has a large population of small acreage/part-time farmers who are looking for new techniques to use on their properties.

    Traditional practices currently recommend intensive tillage for reseeding dryland and irrigated pastures. Tillage is becoming more costly each year as fuel and machinery costs continue to skyrocket. Traditional tillage techniques are expensive and not suited for rocky soils or steep slopes. Although a no-till program may increase the use of petroleum-based herbicides, it more than offsets the petroleum consumed for traditional practices. The goal for this project was to demonstrate adapted techniques of no-till planting and crop rotation to minimize large quantities of fuel used in a traditional program while lowering input costs, and providing comparable income streams during crop rotation.

    No-till practices have been incorporated into small grain production for many years and the group was interested to see if these same practices could be implemented into hay and pasture rotations. The producers wanted to see if they could do a no-till program on their pasture and hay renovations with their existing equipment or equipment readily available locally.

    There were several farm/ranch operations involved in this project; during the course of this project one producer, Bernie Lucas, passed away from cancer and his family decided to drop out of the project as they needed to focus their attention on other ranch issues. All of the operations have both irrigated and dryland pastures and hay land. All operations raised beef cattle, and some sell excess hay produced. Traditionally these operations have utilized extensive tillage for pasture and hay land reclamation. Generally, producers plow old pastures or hay fields in the fall and invest two or three crop years in grain crops, which require applications of nitrogen and herbicides while producing no viable forage base.

    This project demonstrated stand termination by herbicides, forage crops for rotation and no-till establishment of both annual and perennial forages in the system. The cooperator producers and county agents were interested in seeing how a no-till system could work with their current equipment constraints. High fuel prices and low economic return create a current situation that may not be sustainable using traditional methods.

    Project objectives:

    The project coordinator and technical advisors believe implementing knowledge gleaned from replicated research is a key component to successful farm and ranch operations. However, when that research is implemented at the individual farm/ranch level, producers need to be able to make adjustments to fit their constraints. The true intent of the project was to see how implementing a no-till component affected real-life ranch operations, not a research-based replicated study. With this in mind, the project sponsor and technical advisors felt it was important to allow cooperating county agents and producers to incorporate factors that affected their participation in this project.

    Objectives/Performance Targets and Methods in the original application:

    2008 – Finalize site selection, herbicide treatment, monitor sites, grower tours, site evaluation to determine herbicide treatment. Plant forage winter wheat utilizing grower’s equipment. Grower meeting to present data and pictures collected from all the plots.

    2009 – Evaluate stand of forage winter wheat and determine if broadleaf herbicide is needed, individual tours of each site, harvest forage winter wheat for hay or graze forage winter wheat depending on individual producers forage needs collect yield data. Group meeting of individuals involved in the grant to discuss the project and review each location. Site evaluations to determine the need for herbicide treatment. Technical advisors and cooperators will plant “Willow Creek Forage Winter Wheat.” If field is weed-free as determined by technical advisors and cooperators, winter field peas will be planted with the forage winter wheat. Winter grower meetings for area producers to look at results from the project to date.

    2010 – Same procedures as 2009. Fall 2010 – frost plant permanent vegetation in sites.

    Spring/Summer 2011 – evaluate stands of permanent vegetation establishment. Finalize cost comparisons of traditional vs no-till for this project, including a survey of participating producers.

    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.