Collaborating Producer: Garry & Trudy Gurtler, Manning Alberta
Research Coordinator: Dr. Akim Omokanye
In recent years, many farmers have found that grazing on productive pastures can be very profitable. However, many pastures are not as productive as they could be, as the amount and quality of forage do not meet the needs of the growing livestock. Adding new forage species to a pasture can improve its productivity. In particular, adding a legume such as alfalfa can increase the yield and nutritional quality of the forage and add nitrogen to the soil. There are many ways to add new species to a forage stand. One effective method includes terminating the existing pasture and seeding a new forage stand by direct seeding (sod seeding). In sod seeding, machinery and fuel costs tend to be lower compared to a conventional tillage system. By decreasing the amount of fuel used, farmers can lower energy costs, boost the efficiency of farm operations and decrease the amount of harmful emissions released into the environment. The objective of this project was to examine the establishment of forages and fuel savings of seeding perennial forages back into sod without tillage.
The site located near North Star, AB, was used strictly for pasture for many years. It was sprayed in the fall of 2010 using glyphosate @ 1liter/acre. Soil samples were taken to determine nutrient levels.
Forage Species, Seeding Techniques and Date:
A total of 11 different perennial forages were seeded either individually or as mixtures into 72 acres of land on May 16, 2011. Fertilizer application was 50lbs/acre of 30N-40P-10K. A pre-seed burnoff application of glyphosate @ ½ a litre/acre was done on May 16, 2011, just before seeding. A 20-ft Haybuster drill was used for seeding.
Total fuel used in the fall for spraying 40 acres of land with glyphosate was 29.7 L. Fuel used for seeding 72 acres was 100.6 L, an average of 1.40 L/acre. Speed at seeding was 3-4 mph. When compared to the traditional plow down average fuel requirement of 15.76 L/acre (ARECA 2010), fuel savings in the present study was 14.36 L/acre for sod seeding. That’s a fuel savings of 91% using sod seeding to rejuvenate pastures. Understanding and improving fuel efficiency in sod management will have a significant impact on fuel use on producer’s farms. As mentioned earlier, another economic benefit is the difference in machine labor requirements. In Alberta, studies by Reduced Tillage Linkages have shown that direct seeding into sod may save as many as 80 hours of labour compared to plowing, discing, cultivating and harrowing a quarter section in preparation for conventional seeding.
Days to Emergence & Plant Counts
Seedling emergence was very slow. Only a few forage species had emerged by 40 days after seeding. Seedling emergence count was on average 151plants/m2 60 days after seeding. But for the forage mix + Xena barley section of the land, more seedling emergence (181plants/m2 ) was recorded (see pictures below).
Generally, the 40 acres of the trial site, which was sprayed in the fall, had substantial amounts of regrowth and some weed infestation. Random, weed counts averaged 61 weed plants/m2 60 days after seeding.
If improving the fertility status of the stand is not likely to improve its productivity, then it may be time to reseed. Plant densities may have become too low and/or perennial weeds too numerous. Re-seeding is also one way to introduce more legumes into a grass stand. It is well established that grass-legume mixtures will produce more dry matter than grasses alone. The difference is most pronounced during drier seasons. The deep-rooted legumes such as alfalfa are able to take advantage of sub-soil moisture reserves. The quality of the forage will increase relative to the proportion of alfalfa in the stand.