Reducing herbicide usage, minimizing grazing down time, and improving pasture productivity with banded application of herbicide during pasture renovation
A large percentage of open land in the northern areas of Pennsylvania is not well suited for row crop production due to land use limitations that include moderate to excessive slopes, shallow soils, and excessive stoniness. Many producers in the region have adopted some form of grazing to make use of those acres. These graziers could realize greater production if they could increase the quantity and/or quality of forage on offer. For example, inclusion of alfalfa into pastures can help bridge the summer slump normally observed with cool season grass production. While most will acknowledge that renovation of pasture, specifically overseeding, would increase their yield of animal product per acre in the long term, many are reluctant to do so because they do not want to suffer the short term production loss that occurs while renovating, even though they recognize that long-term productivity will be enhanced. Due to limitations listed above, renovation with tillage is less desirable than no-tilling with herbicide to control existing vegetation. Additionally, Extension educators in this area note reluctance by producers to try some of the potentially more productive forage species. They cite concern over plant winterhardiness and ability to perform on marginal soil conditions. Subjecting these forages to the environmental stresses and documenting their performance will provide data for producers to make more informed decisions.
The project seeks to identify one or several possible opportunities to improve pasture productivity which in turn should improve farm productivity and profitability. The issues of interest to farmers include:
1. Reduced use of herbicide by band applications during no-till seeding.
2. Possible reduction in the lag time between seeding and when pasture can be grazed after seeding when banded applications of herbicide are used.
3. Increased plant and animal productivity through the identification and subsequent introduction of more productive pasture plant species.
Accomplishments for the project have not met expectations, mostly due to a very dry pasture growing season during 2005. Most plots of drilled forage did establish well during the fall of 2004 and early spring of 2005. However, very cool and uncharacteristically dry weather during later spring and warm but dry conditions during summer limited the production of forage on most plots at most locations. In general, the perennial ryegrasses and festuloliums established much sooner and created swards that were thicker than the other species. Intermediate establishers included the tall fescues, orchardgrasses, and alfalfas. The species slowest to establish include birdsfoot trefoil, kura clover, and ladino clovers. The winter of 2004/05 was not harsh. Little winterkilling of plants was observed. Limited yield data was collected during June 2005. Additional yield data will be collected during 2006 if precipitation is greater than that measured during 2005.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The impacts of this project, to date, have been minimal. Farmers are interested in acquiring new, local information with which they can make better production management decisions. With abnormal weather conditions during the time we expected to collect the more useful data, our ability to supply very useful information to the farmers has been limited. Three field days were conducted at three of the six farms that are participating in the study. More than 60 producers attended these events, viewed some of the pasture plots, and learned firsthand about the project and the information expected to be gleaned from the plantings. One summary article has been published in the region's largest circulated farm newspaper (circulation in excess of 52,000) and results-to-date will be shared at two grazing conferences in Pennsylvania during February 2006.