With the cost of commercial fertilizer mirroring the price of oil this past year producers like Calvin Adams are looking at other fertilizer options. Legume crops do not require nearly as much commercial fertilizer as other crops thanks to their nitrogen fixing ability. If including nitrogen fixing plants into cool season smooth bromegrass pastures can potentially reduce production costs as well as protect the ground and surface water sources from potential pollution then producers in the North Central Region of Kansas may have found an economic production advantage.
For years farmers and ranchers have been trying to answer the question of how to maintain optimum production of cool season pastures while decreasing costs and improving late season forage quality. Many have tried to include alfalfa and sweet clover into the grass mix but haven’t been able to maintain persistent and productive stands of legumes or forfeiting grass production or quality.
Adams of Beloit, KS, along with Keith Harmoney, of Kansas State University, and Dwayne Rice, of NRCS, hope to solve this problem using a grant Adams received from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE). With the $2,758 dollars in grant funding Adams will look at the effects of adding legume crops such as grazing tolerant alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, hairy vetch, and several others to his pastures.
The trial will be set up in two paddocks of a 12-paddock rotationally grazed smooth bromegrass pasture. The two test paddocks have distinct soils. One soil is an upland soil with a moderate slope, while the other is a lowland soil with a minimal slope. This will allow Adams to examine which legumes work best on the predominant soils found in the North Central region of Kansas.
Adams will also examine the effects of fertilizer on the legume crops. A portion of each test strip will be fertilized while the remainder will be unfertilized throughout the growing season to see how the legumes establish in both fertilized and non fertilized areas. The fertilized and unfertilized strips will later be compared for total forage production to ascertain the economics of reducing the amount of commercial fertilizer while optimizing cattle production.
Adams’s results will be shared through the local grazier’s group and Kansas Graziers Association farm tours. There are also plans to write newsletter and journal articles so that others can benefit from the findings.
Photo of birdsfoot trefoil from the NRCS National Plant Materials Center Photo Gallery, NETSC