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Eastern Gamagrass Update at the Coffey Ranch

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It has been a number of years since the last update on the establishment and stand development of eastern gamagrass at the Noble Research Institute's Coffey Ranch. This past summer, through the efforts of James Pitman, the 2007 pasture and range intern, and Frank Motal, wildlife and range research program supervisor, the Agricultural Division was able to collect data on the transects (the defined paths along which we take records for the study) in what we refer to as "the eastern gamagrass paddocks" or Pasture 12 of the Coffey Ranch.

Historically, the Coffey Ranch came under the management of the Noble Research Institute in the late 1980s and was managed utilizing Holistic Resource Management (HRM) practices for about 12 years. During this time, the range and pasture resources improved from a low succession vegetation state to a predominantly midsuccession state with areas transitioning to high succession vegetation. More descriptively, this means it transitioned from mostly ragweed, cool-season annuals and threeawns to prairie dropseed, broomsedge bluestem, grama grasses and less ragweed to what we are now observing - a significant amount of little bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass and big bluestem in many pastures along with a diversity of other plants. Several studies were conducted over the years, and, as a result, Pasture 12 was seeded to a mixture of Pete eastern gamagrass, Alamo switchgrass, indiangrass, sideoats grama and big bluestem at a rate of 2.0 pounds of pure live seed (PLS) per acre of each in the winter of 1992-93. In the spring of 1996, seedlings of eastern gamagrass and switchgrass emerged. At that time Pasture 12 was crossfenced into two halves, and the grazing management was changed on this pasture to allow for 6 to 8 inches of residue after each grazing event and appropriate rest periods for the eastern gamagrass given the seasonal moisture conditions. Within one season, the observational and production changes in the pasture were dramatic.

In 1998, with the assistance of another summer intern, Larry Keenan, Frank and I established 10 randomly spaced100-foot transects in Pasture 12 (five transects per half) to determine the percent of basal intercept of Pete eastern gamagrass and Alamo switchgrass. In 1999 and 2000, percent canopy cover was also measured in addition to the basal cover measurements. It was concluded at that time that a small amount of basal cover of Eastern gamagrass could have a dramatic increase in canopy cover. The charts below illustrate this point. With the addition of the 2007 data, we can see that both basal and canopy cover of eastern gamagrass have increased substantially with the switchgrass percentages remaining similar to the earlier measurements.

As we all know, we have experienced an extended drought over the past few years (with 2007 being the exception). The range condition in Pasture 12 has continued to improve during this time as we have observed with many other producer properties in the Noble Foundation service area that have also been well managed. The "take home" message is: when properly managed, the high succession perennial grasses such as eastern gamagrass, switchgrass, indiangrass and big bluestem have a greater probability of surviving and expanding through drought conditions than lower succession grasses - but the plants have to be present to be managed, and the pastures have to be managed for the plants to appear or remain present during times of adversity.