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Hay and pasture renovation begins with assessing economics and risk of assets

Lander – On Oct. 31, the Lander Library hosted the first of four workshops on hay and pasture renovation. The Popo Agie Conservation District, University of Wyoming Extension and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are sponsoring the seminars.

“For the first session we focused on assessing irrigated hay and pasture land,” said Dave Morneau, Popo Agie Conservation District conservation technician. “Renovation can be anything from a tweak to full on plowing up the current forage coverage.” 

Land concerns

“As producers, we have inherited problems with land when we lease or purchase a new field, and sometimes our neighbor’s weed management isn’t that great,” Morneau explained. “We need to understand why we have the problems and identify solutions. Then we need to set goals for how we would like to see our fields and meadows producing.”

One workshop attendee, Jean Armstrong of Lander, ranches on the North Fork of the Popo Agie River and has summer hay ground with gated pipe and flood irrigation.

“We are plowing up older meadows that are native and seeding alfalfa,” Armstrong said. “We have quite a bit of leafy spurge and are looking to control it as well as increase our hay yield.”

Economics

Dallas Mount, UW Extension Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources educator, began the first workshop talking about the economics and risk of renovating a non-productive meadow. Mount walked the attending producers through an analysis of the cost of renovation, basing it on the economic unit of a tonnage of hay for an irrigated meadow.

“We need to factor in loss of production in the short-term until the new forage gets established,” Mount said. “Along with this is included temporary fencing to keep livestock out of the area and alternative livestock feed such as a leased pasture or hay costs.”

He explained, “With a cover crop, we could get one ton per acre the first year after renovation, instead of the normal ton and half. So, if we lose a half ton of production, let’s estimate that loss at $100 per acre.”

Other items to factor in are fuel and equipment costs. 

Mount cautioned that when a landowner begins to count depreciation and repairs, it is often cheaper to hire out the tillage, packing and seeding. 

For chemical costs, it is about $40 per acre for the co-op to come out and spray 2,4-D or another herbicide. 

Then landowners need to include fertilizer, which will be applied according to their soil test and often runs $80 an acre. 

For the workshop scenario, an alfalfa grass seed mix was counted as $60 an acre. Mount reminded the producers, “We shouldn’t work for free, so we should charge labor of $20 per acre.”

Failure risks

“Many producers don’t count the risk of failure,” Mount continued. “Some seedings don’t take and need to be repeated the next year. If we renovated a different field every year for 10 years, it would fail two times out of 10. I figure that risk is about $80 per year cost.” 

“There is an insurance product for forage seeding,” he added. “An adjuster comes out at the end of the year to look at the stand to determine loss. If it is less than the cost of risk, it might be worth looking into it.”

The scenario math found it costs an estimated $530 per acre for renovation. A renovation normally lasts 10 years, so it would cost $53 per acre a year. Renovating a meadow may increase yield to 3.5 tons per acre, so $15 per ton each year for the next 10 years will go to pay for the renovation costs. The variables include the 10 years and the amount of forage produced.

The High Plains Ranch Practicum website, found at hpranchpracticum.com, managed by Mount, contains an Excel spreadsheet that has haying costs pre-populated and equipment and hay field establishment worksheets. An economic analysis can also be done similarly to the workshop scenario by writing on a marker board or scratching on a piece of paper. 

Management

“A well-managed pasture should never have to be renovated,” Mount said. “It’s when we’ve become lazy that makes it necessary. By grazing livestock at the right times we can manage forage and weeds. Public lands are more challenging as producers can only be on them during certain times.”

Renovation tools, he added, speed up the process. 

“Instead of waiting six or seven years, we spend $530 per acre in one year to have the same affect,” Mount explained. “Aeration can be accomplished through grazing livestock in small area, and inter-seeding can be done with livestock being turned out at the right time to incorporate it. Economics are challenged by infrastructure, and we can become more efficient by using livestock or hiring.”

The remaining workshops are Fall Grazing Alternatives and Second Crops on Nov. 1; Improved Plant Varieties on Nov. 14; and Planting and Renovation Techniques on Nov. 21. All of the sessions begin at 1 p.m. at the Lander Library.

Melissa Hemken is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


SIDEBAR:
Soil considerations

The second half of the first Hay and Pasture Renovation workshop focused on the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) web soil survey and the importance of knowing the soils in your fields. 

The NRCS web soil survey is found online the easiest by doing a Google search for “NRCS web soil survey.” 

To use the tool, on the main webpage click the green button that reads, “Start WSS.” From there follow the steps to define an area of interest and select to select a particular property. At the end of the process the soils report can be printed or saved as an electronic document on your computer.

“If a landowner does this once,” Dan Mattke, NRCS area resource soils scientist, explains, “They will know what their soils are, as they don’t change. The web soil survey is also handy to check out land before purchasing it or if a producer is considering leasing a hay meadow.”

The web soil survey will shows how soil works within different uses, such as if it is susceptible to compaction if machinery is run over it.

“The soils report will tell landowners what the available water capacity is,” Mattke says, “which can be used to design irrigation as it shows the capacity of the soils to hold water. The percent organic matter section is important for nutrient availability. With higher organic matter percentages, they will have higher water capacity and less susceptibility for erosion. 

“Maybe a producer is trying to grow alfalfa, but it is too wet. They aren’t seeing anything on the surface to show they have a high water table. The web soil survey will provide the water table depth.” 

Mattke says that while developing a soils report can be done entirely online now, producers should feel free to stop in their local conservation district office for assistance.