GHGMP Project Reports by Region

Direct-seeding drill adds new life to old forage stands

Keeping hay and pasture stands productive saves money and helps protect the environment

B.C. Peace Region farmers are anxious to evaluate the benefits of rejuvenating pasture and hayland through the use of a new direct-seeding drill that has potential to save the cost of breaking land and keep fields in continuous production, says one producer co-operator.

"We may have more demand than what we can accommodate," says John Kendrew, who farms at Pouce Coupe, just south of Dawson Creek. Kendrew, along with Bill Wilson of Dawson Creek and Glenn Hogberg of Progress are co-ordinating use of the Flexi-coil air drill and John Deere tractor available for demonstration and rental to area farmers as part of a project through the Peace River Forage Association of B.C. (PRFA) and the federal Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program (GHGMP) for Canadian Agriculture.

The overall objective is to demonstrate the potential of keeping hay and pasture land productive longer, says Kendrew. And the project, launched in 2003, has caught the interest of area farmers. The 20-foot drill equipped with three air tanks and low disturbance Barton openers is fully booked for the 2004 seeding season, he says. "A lot of farmers want to see how well the system works," he says. "I don't know if we can seed all the acres people have requested, but we'll do our best."

Several approaches

The forage stand rejuvenation projects developed last year and partially funded by the GHGMP take several approaches to keeping hay and pasture land in production, explains Sandra Burton, forage co-ordinator with PRFA and field co-coordinator for the GHGMP in northern B.C.

"We want to look at the options that avoid the need to plow and rework these fields," says Burton. "It's not only a huge cost, but it takes land out of production for at least a year." While the specific economics of rejuvenating pasture versus plowing will be calculated during the three-year project, estimates show the machinery cost alone for working and re-seeding fields ranges from $30 to $75 per acre. Those figures don't include seed, fertilizer and herbicide inputs, as well as the cost of one season of lost production.

"Plowing and reworking forage stands also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions," says Burton. "Cultivation releases carbon stored in the soil to the atmosphere, and fossil fuel is burned by power equipment during tillage operations. As well, during the down year, forage stands aren't collecting carbon dioxide and sequestering carbon."

Flexibility

The air drill offers flexibility for a variety of treatments, says Kendrew, who also serves as regional director of the B.C. Forage Council. Three tanks make it possible to apply fertilizer, seed a cereal and a grass/legume blend, or any combination of the three, all in one pass.

Rejuvenation demonstrations include:

  • Kick-starting a long-established alfalfa/brome stand with fertilizer to observe the response.
  • Treating grass stands with a three-quarter litre per acre rate of glyphosate to kill grass and allow alfalfa to come back. At the same time seeding a red clover/meadow brome/timothy mix directly into the sod.
  • Applying a light glyphosate treatment to kill grass and weeds out of an alfalfa stand, and then seeding barley for annual pasture.
  • Direct seeding alfalfa and brome into sod with and without about three-quarter bushel of barley per acre to act as a cover crop.
  • Comparing spring and early summer seeding with late-fall seeding.
  • Varying rates of fertilizer applied at different sites.

"We're trying a number of combinations with plots ranging up to about 20 acres in size." says Kendrew. "At least one demonstration site this year will also compare the cost and productivity of breaking a hay field and re-seeding versus rejuvenation."

Moisture needed

While several demonstration sites were launched in 2003, it wasn't a good year for evaluations. "We had one of the driest years on record in the region after a succession of dry years," says Kendrew. "A lot of treatments just sat there due to a lack of moisture. We're hoping with more normal conditions we'll see some response in 2004."

Along with the demonstrations, the air drill can be rented by local producers for their own pasture and hayland rejuvenation projects. PRFA actually supplies the operator to provide the custom seeding service. While other direct-seeding drills have been around for years, the Flexi-coil 6000 with Barton openers offers improved technology, says Kendrew.

At 20-feet wide, it's a good mid-size drill for use on smaller pastures, it folds for easy travel on the road, and its low disturbance openers conserve moisture while allowing for accurate placement of seed and fertilizer.

"The drill and these demonstrations are providing a great learning tool for producers," says Kendrew. "We urge anyone looking for more information to contact the PRFA office or any of the project co-ordinators."


Regional reports will be posted as information becomes available. Please check back regularly for updates.