Unnecessary chemical investments on rangeland and pasture

Pete Bauman SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist
Farm Forum

Those of you who have read my articles in the past know that I often share the science that supports limiting chemical inputs for grassland and livestock management, especially in native grassland systems. There are many reasons to consider limiting chemicals, including protecting profitability by reducing or eliminating unnecessary input costs. The benefits of reduced chemical inputs go far beyond dollars, but they can be hard to measure at times and are often masked by other ‘good things’ that lend themselves to long-term profitability.

The first step in evaluating whether chemical management has an unbalanced role in your operation is to perform a self-assessment of how your grassland management program came to rely on chemical management in the first place. Very often, these two things — chemicals and management — are treated synonymously. You cannot have one without the other, right? Wrong! But understanding the hows and whys that got you where you are today does require this self-assessment.

Ask yourself a few basic questions (these can be challenging). The first is, what is different about your pasture today than it was 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago? What do you remember seeing in relation to plant diversity when you were younger? Do you remember seeing manure pats drilled full of holes that resembled a shotgun blast? Do you recall seeing multiple flowering plants that added color to nearly every month of the growing season? Do recall colorful insects you couldn’t identify? Do you actually remember your father or grandfather spending as much time, energy, and money spraying pasture weeds? And finally, can you identify the major plant groups or individual species?

Reflect on those questions, then think about where you are today. What management decisions or influences might have created the current condition that seemingly requires chemical inputs? Could it be overutilization through improper livestock stocking rates or improper grazing timing? Could it be a well-meaning professional encouraging you to spray as a base part of your management plan? Or, is it possible that the chemical inputs of the past have now changed you plant community to the degree that additional chemical inputs are seemingly necessary?

These are complex questions for complex grassland systems, and the answers usually come in pieces. At last year’s farm show, we began to explore these questions with those attending private applicator training. Over 100 producers who took the training were introduced to concepts that most had not previously considered such as the value of a butterfly to a livestock operation and other seemingly unrelated questions that are critical to assessing your pasture health and potential profitability.

So, if you want something different in your PAT renewal, or if you are simply interested in this topic, join us for the Feb. 8 PAT session offered at the Watertown Farm Show. We’ll be discussing pasture management at about 10:30 a.m. in that session. See you there!