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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Missouri: Forage and Grassland Improvement - Livestock Producers Explore Best Management Practices


Forage and Grassland Improvement -
Livestock Producers Explore Best Management Practices

Missouri's "show-me" livestock producers demonstrated their forage management project with great enthusiasm. "Except for areas where I cut hay, we haven't used any nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium in three years," says Joe Ewing of Polk County, Missouri.

Ewing has been a Clean Watershed Cooperator with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources since the Forage and Grassland Improvement Demonstration Project began in 1992. Previously, his pastures had been straight Kentucky 31 tall fescue, and more than 80 percent was infected with the endophyte fungus. Now Ewing has adopted a more intensive grazing system. He also tests his soil for fertilizer and pH, and overseeds the grass with a mixture of red clover, white clover, and annual lespedeza.

"We retest soils each year," he said. "But so far, the only plant nutrients needed have been calcium and magnesium. We try to maintain soil pH in the 6.5 range. Phosphorus and potash have stayed up well, and the legumes fix enough nitrogen for the grass."

In the rotational grazing system used for this project, livestock graze a section of pasture for one to three days before moving on to the next section. Each section is rested 18 to 40 days between grazings. Ewing manages three separate grazing cells. He uses electric polywire fencing to subdivide pastures into grazing paddocks. One cell is divided into 12 paddocks of 3 acres each; a second, larger cell has 8 paddocks of about 12 acres each; and the third cell consists of 6 paddocks, each about 7 acres in size.

Ewing turns cattle into a paddock when the grass is 6 to 8 inches tall and lets them graze the forage down to 3 to 4 inches. This still leaves enough leaf surface for good photosynthesis and quick regrowth. Depending on how fast the grass regrows, each paddock gets a rest period of 18 to 26 days. Ewing said his steers gain weight at the rate of 1.76 pounds per day, which is an added incentive for rotational grazing - it brings home a tidy profit when Ewing sells the steers after 173 grazing days.

Other producers buy the project's claims

"Except for areas where I cut hay, we haven'tused any nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium in three years."

In all, 15 demonstration sites in southwest Missouri participated in the Forage and Grassland Specialist Improvement Project. The Top of the Ozarks and the Southwest Missouri Resource Conservation and Development councils conducted the project from mid-1992 through 1995. As incentives to participate, producers received guidance on how to design, install, and maintain the grazing and watering systems and additional information on pasture establishment measures.

The success of this project owes much to the dairy producers and ranchers who cooperated, and to the soil and water conservation districts, Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Missouri's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) - who all who shared their time, technical knowledge, and management skills during the project. Two Resource Conservation and Development councils, the Missouri DNR, the NRCS, and EPA (using 205 and 319 program grants) funded a grasslands specialist to implement the project.

The project site, a 23-county area in southcentral and southwest Missouri, has the highest concentration of beef and dairy cattle in the state. (Missouri ranks second in the nation as a producer of beef cows.) The area's five recreational lakes and several scenic rivers provide a base for tourism and residential development in the area. This potentially uneasy mix of land uses works as smoothly as it does because so many of its residents are willing to participate in demonstration projects of this kind and adopt practices that protect their valuable water resources.

Related benefits also count

Reduced are soil exposure Reduced field erosion

Alternative watering supplies and fences, thus (1) limited cattle access to streams (2) improved water quality for consumption (1) reduced streambank erosion and improved wildlife and acquatic habitat (2) improved cattle and dairy performance

Even distribution of manure Reduced nutrient runoff

Reduced fertilizer application Reduced nutrient runoff

Improved forage quality Improved cattle and dairy performance

Reduced weekds, thus reduced herbicide Reduced chemical runoff

The farms ranged in size from 40 to 4,000 acres. Mark Kennedy, the project's grassland specialist, tested soils on the farms and helped producers maintain a satisfactory plant fertility level through nutrient recycling. Improved manure distribution also eliminated the need for supplemental fertilizers. What is more, the grazing livestock "harvested" many weeds, such as ragweed and lambs quarters, thereby eliminating the need for herbicides.

Practices implemented in this project helped protect recreational waters and increased profitability in the forage and livestock enterprises. Rotational grazing systems provide the following actions and benefits:

"From an animal waste standpoint," says Kennedy, "management-intensive grazing ensures that plants are in a high state of nutrition when livestock graze. From a plant standpoint, it provides respite, and from an environmental standpoint, it more evenly distributes manure over the grazing area. It ties the animal needs to the plant needs."

Extending the program statewide

In an unusual twist to the project, farmers who implemented the grazing systems did not receive cost-share. Kennedy explains that the cash-flow benefits of the systems were their selling point. "It would have defeated the purpose of the demonstration project if other farmers who wanted to apply the grazing systems could not obtain cost-share."

In 1994, however, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources recognized the benefits of grazing systems and initiated a pilot cost-share program for three counties. This year, the cost-share program was extended to nine counties and statewide. The program is administered by local soil and water conservation districts.

Missouri livestock producers who have tried the system agree that the demonstration project offered convincing evidence for the notion that changing livestock systems to reduce inputs in favor of increased management results in positive water quality and income benefits - a change that Kennedy says, "replaces horsepower with brain power."

CONTACT: Ruth Wallace
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
(573) 526-7687

The Mark Twain Water Quality Initiative -
Total Resource Management in Missouri's Upper Salt River Basin

The Mark Twain Water Quality Initiative is a dual project designed to implement on-farm BMPs and inform and educate citizens on the importance of watershed management in northeast Missouri. The two portions of the project include the Mark Twain Water Quality Demonstration Project and the Mark Twain Public Information Project. The paragraphs that follow describe the Water Quality Demonstration Project.

The Mark Twain Water Quality Demonstration Project expedites the adoption of innovative best management practices (BMPs) through technical assistance to producers. Led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the original project targeted portions of seven counties draining into the Mark Twain Lake, but the focus has been expanded to include a major portion of the Upper Salt River Basin. The project is designed to help farmers

  • develop, implement, and evaluate total- resource management (TRM) systems or whole-farm plans that emphasize nutrient and pesticide strategies;
  • plan, design, and install animal waste systems; and
  • provide assistance to field personnel in the formulation and implementation of TRM systems training.

The project area consists of approximately 630 square miles in northeast Missouri and includes all of the drainage area of the Crooked, Otter, and North Fork tributaries located within the hydrologic or political boundaries of Knox, Monroe, Shelby, Macon, Marion, Ralls, and Randolph counties that empty into Mark Twain Lake.

Agricultural land comprises 55 percent of the project area's land use and is the number oneindustry in the basin. Soybeans, corn, wheat, grain, sorghum (milo), and other feed grains and forage crops are the major crops grown in the basin, and agricultural chemicals are used extensively throughout the area.

Upland and bottom lands of the basin are intensively cropped, and the basin is also a major hog producing region, with Shelby and Monroe Counties among the top 10 hog-producing counties in Missouri. The two counties have over 300 swine facilities in operation with an additional 100 dairy and beef operations in existence. Animal waste produced in the counties has a human population equivalent of 144,500 (6,845 in Shelby County and 8,872 in Monroe County).

The total resource management plans include BMPs such as manure and nutrient management, intensive rotational grazing systems, alternative water supplies for livestock, waste production storage and treatment programs, erosion control, prairie restoration, woodland and wildlife management, precision farming, crop rotation, farm dump cleanups and alternatives to illegal dumping, insect scouting, weed mapping, dead animal composting, pesticide container recycling, nitrogen-fixing legumes for reduced fertilizer applications, and soil and water testing.

Fertilizer savings

On one farm in the project area, 84-year-old Lucille Redman has planted lespedeza clover - and also grass and legume species such as brome, orchard and ladino, along with red clover on her hay field. "My cattle have had more grass to eat than ever before, yet my fertilizer bill has gone down," she says. At one point, the hay field was so tall Redman had to bring in her cattle between hayings, which in turn gave their usual grazing pasture a resting period for regrowth.

Redman also maintains a buffer strip along the riparian corridor which helps to stabilize streambanks and filter runoff. Soil erosion and rainfall runoff are major hazards on about 80 percent of the cropland and pasture in the project area, she reminds her visitors and friends. "The sediment is really bad," she says. "Since nutrients and chemicals adsorb to clay and silt and are deposited with them in lakes and streams."

Redman's reduced fertilizer bill indicates, however, that there is less potential for nutrient runoff under the Water Quality project than before the project began. The result is a cleaner drinking water supply for residents in Monroe City as well as an increase in profit for area farmers like Redman.

On still another project site, Clarence Seiber notes that half of his farm borders the Sugar Creek Lake reservoir north of Moberly, Missouri. Sugar Creek is one of the six drinking water resources threatened by sediment and runoff from the project area.

Before Seiber took over, the land his farm is on had been stripped of its terraces and greatly deforested. He was faced with working up glacial plains land that had lost a considerable amount of topsoil. More recently, Seiber has been working with the Randolph County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in an effort to rebuild the highly erodible land.

Increased profitability

"My cattle have had more grass to eat than ever before, yet my fertilizer bill has gone down."

"I didn't believe hay production could be any more profitable than grain, he says, "but I've learned through this program that with this kind of soil I can produce hay in higher quality and for higher profit than grain."

In addition to reducing fertilizer inputs on the hayfield, Seiber and his son Max are involved in a Wildlife and Forestry program and a Stewardship Incentive Program. Now the cooperation among the many agencies, and the family's hard work, is beginning to pay off: in soil conservation, fertilizer savings, improved wildlife habitat, and increased hay quality - all of which mean less polluted runoff in Sugar Creek Lake and an increase in profits for Clarence Seiber.

Actions expended, benefits received

The combined actions and benefits from the Redman and Seiber projects are examples of TRM. Each producer selected management actions that would limit bare soil exposure, reduce his or her dependence on fertilizer, improve crop or forage quality, control weeds, and save herbicides.

In short, each one chose management actions that would benefit the whole farm. In addition, both took some action to protect riparian areas, buffer zones, and wildlife. As a result, their farms and communities reaped whole benefits, including improved water quality, less field and streambank erosion, more plentiful wildlife and beneficial pests, fewer chemicals and nutrients in runoff, and not least, increased yields and income.

CONTACT: Ruth Wallace
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
(573) 526-7687

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