This is my final article on new projects this year. Please remember that it will be two or three years from the time these projects start before meaningful conclusions can be drawn. The information is organized alphabetically by the principal investigators involved in the work, and updates will come as soon as the information is available.
Forage specialist Matt Mattox and I have been working with Dr. Jerry Stuth of the Ranching Systems group at Texas A&M University to deploy and demonstrate a livestock early warning system (LEWS) for our area. At the heart of LEWS is an advanced grazinglands forage production model called PHYGROW. This model integrates data in near real-time from several sources, including 24-hour-old NOAA weather data, vegetation, soil and stocking rules. All of this is transparent to the end user when viewing results on the Web site. To see the central Texas LEWS site, go to http://cnrit.tamu.edu/centex/. This system is being tested on three foundation properties and five cooperator locations throughout our service area. We believe that having early information on emerging forage conditions will aid decision making that will improve the economic situation of ranchers who use this service.
Wade Thomason has a couple of new projects starting this year. The first is entitled "Forage yield and nutritive value of bermudagrass cultivars under different nitrogen rates." Two schools of thought exist in regard to fertilizer recommendations for bermudagrass varieties having different yield potentials. Some think that if a variety produces more grass under high-yielding conditions (high fertility) then it will also produce relatively more grass under low-fertility conditions. The other opinion is that under low-fertility conditions, varieties with higher genetic yield potential offer no yield benefit. Stated another way, if a producer isn't going to fertilize for high yields, is it valuable for them to use a variety with greater genetic yield potential? This research will determine the relative yield and nutritive differences among bermudagrass varieties fertilized with 0, 75, 150, 225 or 300 lb. nitrogen per acre.
Wade's other research project is titled "Effect of banded phosphorus and tillage on small grain forage production." The goal for many who grow small grains for forage is early fall production because it allows more flexibility in management and a longer grazing period. Much research has investigated grain production in conventional and no-till systems, but little has been done to study forage production of small grains in no-till versus conventional tillage systems. Anecdotal evidence attributes earlier fall production under conventional tillage to banding phosphorus (P) fertilizer with the seed at planting, even on soils with acceptable pH and high P levels. Some suspect that this could be even more important in no-till production systems. When managed correctly, the no-till system offers the potential benefit of increased soil moisture, which may allow earlier planting. Research is needed to determine how the different small grains species will respond to a no-till system with and without banded P fertilizer. This study will compare forage yields of soft wheat, hard wheat, rye and oats produced using no-till and conventional tillage management, receiving either no P fertilizer, 60 lb. P/acre banded in the furrow or 60 lb. P/acre broadcast.
Finally, Evan Whitley is starting a new research project called "Utilizing alternative feedstuffs to compliment cattle production on winter pasture." Fall-seeded small grains are often an economical resource available for beef cattle producers in the southern Great Plains. However, winter pasture is seasonal and can be variable. By-product feeds, such as soybean hulls, can provide producers with many options that are not available when relying solely on winter pasture. This project will compare the differences in stocker cattle performance on small grains pasture stocked at varying rates using soybean hulls to complement forage production and placed into one of four treatment groups.
- Conventional pastures stocked at 500 lb. live weight (LW) per acre during the fall phase and 1,000 lb. LW/acre during the spring phase. Fall-phase cattle will be bought in late September to early October and spring stockers will be bought in early January for this treatment.
- Heavy Fall/Moderate Spring pastures will be stocked in the fall at 1,000 lb. LW/acre and given soybean hulls at all times from self-feeders (all cattle remain).
- Heavy Fall/Heavy Spring pastures will be stocked in the fall at 1,200 lb. LW/acre with access to soybean hulls at all times (all cattle remain).
- Optimum pastures will be stocked according to the forage specialist's recommendation throughout the project. In this last treatment group, extra cattle will be bought in the fall and fed soybean hulls in a dry lot until they are needed for grazing, and once they go onto pasture they are not removed.