Interior Alaska Hay Field Renovation Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2014: $49,449.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Brian Atkinson
Fairbanks Soil & Water Conservation District
Jessica Guritz
Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District

Annual Reports

Information Products

Interior Alaska Hay Field Renovation Poster (Conference/Presentation Material)


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: radishes (culinary)


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures


    In Alaska, the high cost of renovating pasture and hay fields and the short production season result in hay fields that remain in continuous grass hay indefinitely. Some fields have been in production without renovation for over 30 years. Fields are severely compacted causing environmental concerns, rooting depths are shallow, and surface applied fertilizer is often lost to volatilization and runoff. Nitrogen that infiltrates below the shallow root system can easily be leached into ground water in areas where water tables are shallow. Yields and profitability are negatively impacted, soil health is extremely low, and biologic activity is reduced. This project is unique in comparing three options to complete renovation of fields without the high costs of seed, fertilizer, fuel, labor, and indirect costs including loss of income during a three-year renovation. Renovation can lead to loss of customers if supplies are not adequate to supply a producer’s standing hay customers. Seasons are very short and standard field renovation including disking, plowing, and planting could take up to three years. Previous research and testing using soil aeration with an aerator was inconclusive. This SARE-funded project to utilized mechanical over seeding that slightly discs and then seeds new grass in older hay fields and also use a cover crop (forage radishes) to break up soil compaction and improve soil health. Cover crops have potential to improve soil texture and porosity in the absence of critical micro invertebrates.

    This project tested the effectiveness of three different treatments to improve soil health and consequently hay production on overly-compacted hay fields in Interior Alaska. These field trials included the following treatments: (1) use an overseeder to renovate a plot and seed brome grass, (2) renovate and overseed with radish seed, and (3) broadcast radish seed. We found no significant treatment effects on forage yield, but this may be due to the short seasonal impacts of cover crops, and decreased impact due to competition with weedy species in establishing radish plots. More work should be done to assess the use of cover crops in renovating interior Alaska hay fields to improve soil health and forage production.

    Project objectives:

    The overall goal of this project was to evaluate the effectiveness of non-traditional hay renovation techniques, and the subsequent effect on hay yield, soil quality and weed stand presence. These were evaluated using the following objectives:

    1) Evaluate the use of hay field renovation by 1) overseeding with brome grass, 2) overseeding with radish, and 3) by applying herbicides, broadcast-seeding radish, and renovating the following growing season with a planting of brome grass.        

    2)  Evaluate differences in hay stand productivity through biomass sampling and forage quality assessments over two growing seasons.

    3)  Evaluate soil quality by assessing differences in soil bulk density, soil infiltration rates and soil fertility assessments.

    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.