|May 16, 2002
Volume 32 Number 16
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Agriculture Research Projects Look Back to the Future
Professor Wes Patton and his agriculture students are researching the future by resurrecting some time-honored methods from the past.
Hit by the prune industry overproduction slump in 2001, the university prune orchard was reduced from 42 to 10 acres, which are now being converted to organic production. Herbicide spraying was stopped, promoting a lush undergrowth of clover that fixes nitrogen and puts it back into the soil for the trees.
But even beneficial undergrowth can get out of hand, and thats where Patton and his sheep management team came in, proposing to put in 100 sheep to control the undergrowthan age-old method of vegetation management. His team includes four agriculture students, a staff livestock technician, and two industry advisers.
Fifty sheep started grazing in late April, with 50 more to be added in May. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to help the organic prune team on their way to creating an organic orchard, Patton said, and also to demonstrate how sheep can be used for clearing ground cover in an organic orchard.
Patton expects to attract student teams from the Applied Agriculture Research Class, who will design, conduct, and report on projects such as determining the effect of the sheep on soil compaction, tree damage, forage removal, required stocking densities, economics, and ecological soundness.
A flock should never hear the same church bell twice. Another Patton/student project harks back to such old-time wisdom with rotational grazing at their Meridian Range Project on 240 acres of grazing land donated to Chico State in the 1960s.
Patton became interested in improving production of grasses, clovers, and legumes for grazing livestock on the range, located 12 miles north of Chico off Meridian Road and east of Highway 99, which has always been used to winter beef cattle.
As well as testing new plant species and soil amendments
(fertilizers), Patton and his students decided to implement a rotational
grazing system, also called management intensive grazing, which simulates
the way wild herds of ruminant animals like bison used to graze rangeland.
The animals cant be selective, Patton said. They
eat the weeds, grass, clover, whatever is growing. This gives the
good plants equal opportunity with the weeds, and over time the good plants
will become more prevalent.
Although new grasses introduced by the project have not thrived so farperhaps due to lack of rain and heavy frostin the first season there was nearly a threefold increase in forage production of the grasses and plants already there. Patton credits the unexpected increase to the rotational grazing and a combination of two minimal soil amendments: beet lime and ammonium sulfate.
The project, now in its second year, received a CSU Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI) grant, as well as matching donated services. Full results will be reported in December 2002.
A subpart of the Meridian Range study was using sheep
instead of chemicals to reduce the amount of yellow star thistle (a.k.a.
Public Plant Enemy #1 for its infestation of more than eight
million California acres).
We wanted to put some sound science behind a practice that has been around for many years, Patton said. The research results will be published in December as a guidebook for homeowners, farm owners, and anyone who wants to control yellow star thistle with sheep.
It is somewhat unique that we are able to weave undergraduates into these research projects, Patton stated. We do a lot of things for our undergraduates that other institutions reserve for faculty and graduate students.
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