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Progress Report: Rejuvenating Pastures with Legumes for Enviroment and Economics

Written by: Akim Omokanye,

Location: Teepee Creek

With Collaboration from: Mack Erno (Producer, Teepee Creek)

Professor Herbert (Bart) Lardner (University of Saskatchewan)

Calvin Yoder (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)

Dr. Nityananda Khanal ( Agriculture & Agri-Food

Canada, Beaverlodge Research Station)

Dr Obioha Durunna (Lakeland College)

From: Peace Country Beef & Forage Association 2019 Annual Report


Background

Beef cattle producers know that grazing their cattle on productive pastures can be very profitable for their operations, but over time, pastures decline in productivity and livestock carrying capacity. The traditional strategy of breaking the ground and re-seeding is not only costly and time-consuming (it takes a pasture out of production for a year or more), but also releases stored carbon from the soil into the atmosphere. Rejuvenation of depleted pastures through alternative strategies which avoid breaking ground could be a solution for rapid improvement of older forage stands, without the negative consequences on the global carbon cycle. However, improving existing forage stands is a complex subject and a costly challenge for livestock producers. PCBFA recently completed a study that showed it would cost producers a minimum of $280/acre to break & re-seed a new forage stand. Improvement of existing pasture without breaking & re-seeding is expected to take less time and be a more economical method of pasture rejuvenation.

This project will build on the results of the previous PCBFA project by investigating in further detail a critical element of sustainable pasture production: legumes. Legumes in pasture will increase calf and yearling weight gains and cow body condition scores, improve overall value and quality of a pasture, extend pasture productivity and quality during and beyond the “summer slump” of tame grasses, add biodiversity to increase interactions with soil organisms (for improved soil health), and fix nitrogen to reduce fertilizer costs and increase forage production/profit as well as capture soil carbon. They also provide root systems to different profiles in the soil, thereby increasing utilization of soil moisture and increasing carbon capture depths, and they are more drought averse, which helps to stabilize yields in drier years.

The potential attraction of forage legumes for producers is not simply a function of their ability to reduce production costs, or to reduce the environmental impact of a livestock production system. Animal products from legume-based stands are also perceived by consumers as being more ‘natural’ than equivalent products from intensively managed grass-based stands or concentrate supplemented diets. High legume pasture is critical for sustainable livestock production. Research is needed on methods of adding legumes to pastures (without breaking & re-seeding) for improving soil health, forage productivity, livestock carrying capacity, and profit. Such research will further help to identify appropriate legume species that are most effective as rejuvenation options, with minimal costs and no loss of pasture production or carbon sequestration.

The project started this year and will continue for another 2 years. This report provides preliminary results for an ongoing project.


Objectives

1. To determine the ability of legumes to establish and persist in existing pasture following different seeding methods, compared to breaking the ground to re-seed, and a control.

2. To assess the effect of seeding different alfalfa varieties/types into established alfalfa pasture to determine their ability to survive.

3. To determine soil health improvement, changes in soil quality parameters & C-sequestration resulting from different rejuvenation methods.

4. To compare the economic performance of different rejuvenation methods.

Field Activities Undertaken in 2019

The project is taking place on-farm at Mack Erno’s ranch in Teepee Creek. This is a field scale project with a plot size of about 0.25 acre. The project has been set up using a Randomized Complete Block Design with 3 replications.

The following 10 treatments (T) are being evaluated:

1. T1: Broadcast legume pasture seed blend [cicer milkvetch (CMV), sainfoin, yellowhead alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil] in fall prior to bale grazing in fall or winter.

2. T2: Feed legume pasture seed blend (same as treatment 1 above) mixed with minerals (legume seed + minerals) during bale grazing in fall or winter. The practice will be investigated to determine if feeding seed to cattle is a viable option for establishing legume frost seeding.

3. T3: Feed hay bales dominated by mature pods of CMV during bale grazing. CMV has a hard seed coat, so it is anticipated that passage of pods/seed through the digestive tract of cattle will have positive effects on the survival, germination, and establishment of the seeds held within the feces.

4. T4: Broadcast legume pasture seed mixture (same as treatment 1 above) prior to high stock density grazing (HSDG). The legume seed mixture will be broadcast onto the pasture prior to HSDG, which will be done to create a mob grazing effect.

5. T5: Direct seeding of high legume pasture seed mixture (same as treatment 1 above) with a no-till drill after HSDG in spring.

6. T6: Direct seeding of high legume pasture seed mixture (same as treatment 1 above) with a no-till drill into existing vegetation after usual grazing in spring, as practiced by collaborating producer.

7. T7: Direct seeding of primed legume seeds after HSDG in Spring.

8. T8: Direct seeding of a mixture of 4 different alfalfa types (Flemish, Siberian, standard and hybrid) into old alfalfa pasture to determine their ability to establish and survive.

9. T9: Break & re-seed with high legume pasture seed mixture (same as treatment 1 above). This will involve complete renovation (plow, disc, harrow and seed in spring).

10. T10: Control.

Performance Measures

A systems approach to analyzing the different treatments will be used for this project. The following field measurements will be collected over the next 3 years:

1. Soil & environmental components

· Soil quality, soil health and C-sequestration will be determined from samples taken at 0-6”, 6-12”, and 12-18” soil depths.

2. Agronomic/forage component

· Seedling establishment, plant composition, forage yield & nutritive value.

· Crop health assessments with optical sensor (GreenSeeker technology)

· Pasture water use efficiency (WUE) will be estimated.

3. Livestock component

· Evaluation of forages for NDF digestibility to aid in predicting total forage digestibility at 24 & 48 hrs. Cowbytes ration balancing and comparisons using forage yield & nutritive value of forage analysis from all treatments to enable the prediction of average daily gains from the treatments.

4. Economic performance of the treatments using partial budget analysis will be performed in 2021.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Mack Erno for providing the project site and his interest in the project. Thank you to James & Jodi Bozarth (Sexsmith, Alberta) and Kenneth & Pam Binks (Teepee Creek) for providing the equipment for implementing the project treatments as well as for their interest in the project. The different perennial forage legume seeds used for the project have been donated by the following: Pick Seed, Imperial Seed (Winnipeg), Golden Acre Seeds (Fairview), Brettyoung Seeds (Rycroft) and South Peace Grain Cleaning Co-op (Dawson Creek).

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