Unintended Consquences

If we knew the reaction of all of our actions it would definitely help guide our actions. Most of us, however, learn by trial and error. Out of errors we are then able to learn and move into the future with a more solidified plan. Then there are those occasions where the negative results of our actions are hard to measure. In these cases it’s easy to act based on the fear of what might happen if the action is not taken. Take these examples into account:

Annual Broad Leaf Herbicide Application

Broadleaf herbicides are a tool for eliminating broad leaf plants from a forage stand. They do eliminate weedy plants such as horsenettle, but one of the primary consequences of their use is the elimination of broadleaf forages such as clover and chicory. Broadleaf herbicides applied routinely, with no plan of action for replacement plants, may not improve overall pasture productivity. The point here is not that broadleaf herbicides shouldn’t be used, but that they should be used a tool for opening up space that is then populated with desirable forage species. In addition, the question must be answered- what allowed the weeds to grow in the first place- overgrazing, untimely grazing and/or unbalanced fertility? Until this question can be answered, and a plan of action is in place to prevent weeds in the future, maybe the sprayer should stay in the barn.

Fall Clean Up Grazing Late Spring Grazing

When cool season perennial growth stalls, a ‘fall cleanup’ seems like a great way to send pastures into winter with a well-trimmed field and harvest that last bit of good forage before moving to an all hay diet. This is counterproductive. Cool season perennials need energy ahead of stressful environments such as summer drought and winter. When we send them into winter with no or very low growth, we remove needed energy and we expose them to the elements by removing the ‘insulation’ layer of growth. The unintended consequence here is slower growth in the spring, which will prolong hay feeding. The slow growth/recovery in the spring reduces the timeline of growth and often encourages late spring grazing of perennials, which again reduces needed energy for the plants to thrive in the summer. The result is a cycle of encouraged stand reduction. If you have a hard time picturing this, watch the recovery of perennial plants in the spring that are just outside of your fence- ditches and road-banks.

Overseeding Annuals into Perennials

It’s green, and you can see the lines, but how much value are you actually getting from overseeding fields of cool season perennials with ryegrass? If you have bermudagrass, sure overseed with a winter annual such as cereal rye, triticale, etc. Cool season perennials, however, just simply don’t offer enough of an ‘off season’ for annuals to perform well. Some solutions to this have been presented which involve grazing the cool season perennial tight in the fall before overseeding. As mentioned above, this ‘clean-up’ of cool season grasses weakens them ahead of winter and delays their regrowth in the spring which does allow growth from the overseeded winter annuals, but does not necessarily increase the net forage amount produced if the perennials had been treated with care in the fall. A better plan would be to give the perennials the rest and balanced fertility they need in the fall. In addition, stands can be evaluated for plant population and overseeded to thicken the stand, reduce weed control need and encourage early spring growth!

Joshua Baker, General Manager

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Pasture Management

Fall overseeding

Last fall i bushogged one 5 ac pasture to get the growth lower so that sunlight could get to the seeds that were drilled. However, the matting that occurred in the tractor tracks prevented any seeds from coming up in those tracks. So what to do; overseed w/o cutting the field? Will the seeds get enough light to germinate?
Thank You!

Bill Yarnall March 19, 2020

Hey Bill! I think we talked…

Hey Bill! I think we talked by phone today- but yes, that's a very common issue with tall pastures. If possible, graze or hay prior to seeding to actually remove that residue so it's out of the way. If the residue was that thick, it's like that the seeds would not germinate without having being mowed. If you can't hay or mow, dragging the residue off is the last option.

Unintended consequences

This is a valuable reminder. If we can help each other think about what we want in 1 year, or 2 years, or at least BEYOND the immediate, we will likely be able to better evaluate the consequences of short-term actions.

Some of our actions have morphed into nearly subconscious habits, and some are impulsive. It is sort of like going into the grocery store or gas station convenience store and buying the candy bar near the checkout stand. At certain times, it's a decision with minimal or no negative consequences; maybe even some benefits. But if it is a regular habit, or if we are undisciplined, we will eventually regret the dozens of candy bars we have planted into our fragile bodies.

The same is true regarding the precious, and delicate soil we have the privilege of using to grow our crops and feed our animals. Slathering the land with chemicals on a "habitual" basis with no regard for the long term, harvesting every possible bit of biomass off the land, trampling and smashing the soil down regularly as if the soil is built of memory foam, and many such habits will result in similar poor states of health we'd experience living off of junk food.

So just like it takes education, discipline and hard choices to stay physically healthy, those entrusted with the care of the land will need to "man-up" on a daily basis to excel in farming. May we help and encourage each other to do so.

Thanks again for the reminder

Jonathan March 19, 2020

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