I'm facing a land management decision on our farm which would benefit from...

Asked February 12, 2018, 3:39 PM EST

I'm facing a land management decision on our farm which would benefit from your advice. Long story short, we have 14 acres of poor soil that has been in corn/soybeans, which our local farmers do not want to cash rent anymore. My long-term plan is to, within the next 5 years, enroll it in CRP/plant it in one of their prairie practices. I'm told that the CRP program is currently at its national acreage cap and it may be awhile before new enrollment applications are accepted. In the meantime, my concern is keeping this acreage in commercial agriculture and thus maintaining our property's eligibility for CAUV taxation. We are looking at planting these acres in hay, to be sprayed and replaced with prairie forbs/grasses within a few years. My concerns are: 1) Choosing a hay seed mix that will not introduce problem non-native grasses that would create a long-term competition problem for the future prairie natives; and 2) Choosing a hay mix that, while it's in the field, will itself create maximum desirable habitat for grassland birds (especially meadowlarks and sparrows) and any plant stragglers that persist will contribute positively to our future prairie. I understand that most commonly-used hay species around here (grasses and legumes) are both cool season and non-native. Can you offer some thoughts or recommendations? Sincerely, Larry Smith

Richland County Ohio

3 Responses

Sounds like native warm season grasses could be an option for you. Switchgrass, Big Bluestem are potential grasses. They require different management but are native and bunch type which I would think would favor wildlife. The soils should be 65 degrees before planting and may require some vegetation control during establishment. There are special drills that can also handle the seed if needed, i.e. Truax. Warm season grasses can be slow to establish, but if establishment is followed correctly, it can be successful. Also, you do not want to mow or graze too close (just guessing, but leave at lest six -12 inches).

Thank you Chris. If we were to establish a hay field composed of the more traditional cool-season grasses and legumes, what species mix of those would you recommend to create the most attractive habitat for grassland birds (in addition to producing a nutritious hay crop)? Thanks.

We can divide cool season grasses two ways. Sod forming and bunch type. I would propose the bunch type. That would allow small birds to move around in the grass between the clumps and be protected. The two types I can think of is perennial ryegrass and orchardgrass. Orchardgrass would be my choice as perennial ryegrass is not as persistent unless you are well North of I-70.