The Application of using High-Fungal Compost to Renovate Mountain Meadow Pastures

Project Overview

FW20-371
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $20,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/01/2022
Grant Recipient: Oswald Cattle Co
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Steve Oswald
Oswald Cattle Co

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing management, rangeland/pasture management
  • Crop Production: biological inoculants
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal summary:

    Historically, ranchers with cow/calf operations in Colorado have run their operations by calving and feeding hay through most of the winter and mechanically harvesting hay throughout the summer. Though science-based data has helped direct operations toward calving later to mimic nature and discourage cutting hay vs. grazing the meadows, years of continually removing grass vital to soil formation has depleted the organic layer responsible for regenerating healthy meadow systems. The science-based solutions have been to over-seed with native plants, fertilize, or rotate cows at a density high enough to “recondition” with cow manure and hoof action. After years of incorporating these methods, we would like to additionally experiment with an emerging science applying high fungal compost. This proposal builds on the research of Drs. Christine Jones, Elaine Ingham, and David Johnson and producers in the San Luis Valley who became interested enough to commission a commercial-scale compost for application to their lands to validate the approach. Guided by David Johnson and the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District, they pooled $75,000 to commission a commercial-scale compost now available for purchase.
    We would like to use SARE funding to 1) directly support our application of the compost; 2) study the effects through soil and vegetation research 3) provide travel costs for partner CSU Extension and 4) host field days designed to link youth, producers, and conservation professionals. At a minimum, we will provide a location demonstrating experiments with high fungal compost and encourage conversation about the role of healthy soils in our agricultural systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Within the context of irrigated, and unirrigated pastures we will address the following questions:
    1. Can the application of compost or compost extracts shift soil microbial communities and improve soil health metrics and productivity?
    2. Does the integration of grazing influence the effects of compost or compost extracts on soil microbial communities and improve soil health metrics and system profitability?
    3. How does high density grazing compare or add to application of compost extract?

    Within the context of establishing an irrigated cover crop stand, we address the following:
    1. Is treating seeds with compost extract before drilling or applying the compost extract to the soil surface more effective for improving soil health metrics and crop productivity?
    2. How does high density grazing compare or add to application of compost extract?

    To address these questions, we have created the following objectives that will be measured at both irrigated and non-irrigated sites:

    Objective 1: Quantify short- and long-term effects of compost extract on soil health and plant productivity with and without grazing.

    Objective 2: Estimate the financial feasibility and risk associated with the use of high fungal compost extract as a soil amendment to grazed, un-grazed, irrigated, and non-irrigated sites.

    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.