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Goodhue farmer experiments with vegetation mixtures

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/10/2012 3:40 PM

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GOODHUE, Minn. — Most farmers have a bit of scientist in them, trying new things in their fields to generate more revenue.

Ed McNamara is no different. The Goodhue farmer created a buffer strip test plot on his property to find out which grass mixture yielded the most forage.

Farmers are required to have a 50 foot buffer of permanent vegetation along lakes, rivers and streams, according to Minnesota shoreland

management rules and drainage law. Land next to public ditches must have a buffer strip of one rod or 16.5 feet on either side.

Farmers have several options for planting that permanent cover. They can enroll in a federal or state conservation program and forgo harvesting

the land. If, however, they want to harvest the vegetation, farmers may opt to plant something on their own and harvest the forage for their livestock.

McNamara said farmers may prefer the second option since they still have to pay property taxes on the land, even if it is a buffer strip.

He planted four different seed plot mixes. The first was alfalfa and orchard grass with brome with a wheat cover. The second was a Soil and Water Conservation District waterway mix with timothy, perennial rye, Kentucky bluegrass, smooth bromegrass and winter wheat.

The third mixture was a native grass mixture of big blue stem, Canada wild rye, switch grass, Western wheat, perennial rye grass and red fescue. The fourth mixture is a standard Natural Resources Conservation Service mix of Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, side oats grama, Canada wild rye, blue grama, switch grass and two forbs.

The grasses were established in 2010.

A rain simulator poured 90 gallons of water over the four mixtures in one hour earlier this year. Mixture No. 2 has the least sediment loss, at 3.47

pounds per acre, and 19.1 gallons of runoff. Mixture No. 3 lost 8.16 pounds of sediment per acre with 15.8 gallons of runoff.

Mixture No. 1 had 11.29 pounds of sediment loss per acre and Mixture No. 4 had 132.9 pounds of sediment loss per acre. Mixture No. 1 had 12.8 gallons of runoff and Mixture No. 4 had 34.7.

Mixture No. 1 and Mixture No. 3 yielded the most forage per acre, followed by No. 2 and No. 4.

McNamara received a $5,000 Sustainable Agriculture grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to cover some of the project's costs.