Native Seed Production for Crop Diversification
The Native Seed Production for Crop Diversification Project will educate producers located in Uncompahgre Plateau (Plateau) communities how to grow, harvest and market native plant seeds, mainly to be used for revegetation of the Plateau. This project will enable information transfer to producers from native seed research conducted by Colorado State University (CSU) and on grower/cooperator farms. Ultimately, a native seed cooperative structure will be developed, however, the cooperative aspect is not a part of the Project. This project will provide local landowners the opportunity to economically benefit from the production of native seeds species, including grasses, forbs and shrubs, necessary for wildlife forage and the restoration of the Plateau while diversifying their crop base and reducing their overall risk. Once seed production is underway, the Uncompahgre Plateau Project will be the major consumer of locally produced native plant seeds, and it has estimated that the Uncompahgre Plateau Project will spend approximately $1.25 million over the next 8-10 years on native seeds.
(1) Sustain long-term agricultural production by enhancing crop diversification and economic sustainability.
(2) Rehabilitate and restore natural ecosystems on the Uncompahgre Plateau through the use of local produced native plants seeds.
(3) Enhance viability of long-term seeding projects by using locally produced and adapted species.
(4) Provide the information, knowledge and infrastructure for raising native seeds commercially for an existing high-demand market.
(5) Conduct research of native seed production and the transfer of production information to local growers.
Objective 1: Sustain long-term agricultural production by enhancing crop diversification and economic sustainability.
While many species will eventually be brought into production, four species of perennial grasses and forbs will be focused on for this Project; Muttongrass, Junegrass, Western Yarrow, and Wild Aster. Planting began in the summer of 2004 to allow the three years of this grant to be used for seed production rather than plant establishment. Transplants were planted at the Colorado State University Western Colorado Research Center (WCRC) at Rogers Mesa in the summer of 2004 including all four target species. Two grower-cooperators were also brought on in 2004 with approximately one-half acre of transplants planted at each location. In spring of 2005 another one-half acre was direct seeded at each grower-cooperator location. In fall of 2005 a third grower-cooperator was introduced to the Project, and one acre of grasses was direct seeded. Two additional grower-cooperators are set for direct seeding in early spring of 2006.
Growers were compensated for their time and expenses for the duration of the Project with the seed produced belonging to the UP Project for the duration of this grant. At the conclusion of the Project, growers own the seed produced and will be able to sell their seed to the UP project or on the open market.
Objective 2: Rehabilitate and restore natural ecosystems on the Plateau through the use of locally produced native plants seeds.
Seed harvested during the 2005 growing season will be turned over to the UP Project for use in initial research and early seeding efforts on the Plateau. Combined seed harvest weights for first year production for Muttongrass seed were 2.75 lbs and Junegrass yielded 2.25 lbs. Each of these grasses was grown at WCRC and one grower location. The two forb species were grown only at the WCRC but in plots of approximately one-third acre each. The Wild Aster yielded 40 lbs of seed. Seed from the Western Yarrow is in the process of being cleaned and it is anticipated that there will approximately be 50 lbs of seed.
Objective 3: Enhance viability of long-term seeding projects by using locally produced and adapted species.
A meeting will take place on December 19th with Brad Erker of the Colorado Certified Seed Growers Association to determine the best way to certify source identified seed produced by this local growers. The original locations of wildland collected seeds were recorded, and these lots of seeds are kept separate from planting through seed collection to ensure the purity of the seed lots. These seeds can then be certified as source identified. This will help to ensure that the seed stock utilized to replant/revegetate the Plateau is specifically adapted to the Plateau’s growing conditions and should be more successful than lesser-adapted and non-native seed stocks.
Objective 4: Provide the information, knowledge, and infrastructure for raising native seeds commercially for an existing high-demand market.
There are two research areas in the native seed planting at the WCRC planted in the summer of 2005 to further investigate management practices a ‘plant spacing study’ and an ‘irrigation study.’ The irrigation study looks at two different watering schedules to see which will optimize seed production. The plant spacing study compares three different in-row plant spacing 18”, 24” and 30” on six varieties of native species to determine which spacing encourages the highest seed production.
Objective 5: Conduct research of native seed production and the transfer of production information to local growers.
Cooperator/producers were consulted monthly during the growing season for their feedback on their current practices and suggestions for improving field production practices. Field days will be an important part of the Project. Both a spring and fall field day are planned for 2006 to introduce growers to the various facets of the project and highlight their/our early successes.
Weed management was refined throughout the season. Transplanter modifications in 2005 allowed the buried irrigation lines to be laid down simultaneously with native transplants. This increased labor and irrigation efficiency and also facilitates cultivation practices.
Bob Hammon, an entomologist and extension agent with the Colorado State University, performed a seed insect predation scouting, both the Western Yarrow and Wild Aster plots to were scouted regularly for predatory insect infestation. This year there were no ‘seed predatory’ insects found in these two forbs. We will continue to work examine seed to ensure the highest quality and preclude extensive seed damage.
Producer feedback is an important source of information as well. The growers were consulted monthly, when on-farm plots were evaluated, for their input on improving management practices. Many differences exist between the three growing sites and all of the growing experiences will be compiled to determine optimal conditions for growing native seed.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
There have been several impacts and contributions this past year. The project successfully worked with two grower/cooperators and harvested small seed crops from first-year plants from the two grasses. Better transplanting methods have been developed to ensure better transplant survival and early seed production. Early research at the Colorado State University’s Rogers Mesa Research Center indicates that many native species can be brought into cultivation although not all were successful. Seed production from the research station and grower/cooperators contributed nearly 100 lbs of native plant seed to early replant/revegetation efforts on the Uncompahgre Plateau.
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