“We’ve reached a point where a lot of times we can’t directly reseed natives into the environment.

"The soils have been changed by years of dominance by cheatgrass,” said Blair Waldron, a plant geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Utah.

But there is new hope in forage kochia, a perennial shrub that Waldron and his colleagues have demonstrated is a stiff competitor against cheatgrass in semi-arid environments and provides excellent, protein-rich forage for cattle that can improve stocking rates.

Another promising strategy lies in grass-legume mixes, also a subject of Waldron’s research.

In four years of SARE-funded research, Waldron, Utah State University Beef Extension Specialist Dale ZoBell and others demonstrated kochia’s adaptability to semi-arid western rangelands.

They found pastures combining kochia and crested wheatgrass yielded six times more forage than comparison plots of crested wheatgrass alone, largely due to kochia’s tolerance of drought.


This in turn means the rangelands with kochia could support 1.38 animals per acre, while the traditional rangelands could support only 0.24 animals per acre.

In previous research, they demonstrated the profitability of this nutritious blend. Grazing cattle on kochia and crested wheatgrass from November through January cost participating ranchers 25 percent less than feeding alfalfa hay, and resulted in similar body condition scores.

By establishing forage kochia on rangeland damaged by invasive weeds, less land would be needed to manage more beef cattle. This allows other land to rest.  Additionally, because kochia is perennial, it can act as a barrier against wildfires that feed off dead annual weeds.

View a video presentation by Waldron discussing his forage kochia research.

Waldron has begun a more recent project to further expand a rancher’s toolbox by exploring the potential of grass-legume pastures to meet nitrogen needs while promoting environmental stewardship.

Through on-farm research in southern Idaho and Utah starting in 2011, Waldron and his team plan to compare grass monocultures with low- and high-tannin grass-legume mixtures, anticipating that high-tannin legumes may reduce potential problems with excess nitrogen in a grazing system.

They hope to develop recommendations for which species and grass-legume ratios optimize a ranch’s economic and environmental sustainability.  FG

From Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) news release

Courtesy of SARE.