Good fit for native grasses
Bob Speck found a good fit for native prairie grasses on his farm.
He planted 40 acres of switchgrass and 12 acres of big bluestem along a portion of Turtle Creek, which runs through his family’s farm near St. Lawrence, S.D. The field’s soil is suitable for corn, soybeans and wheat, but the shape of the field is irregular and would take a lot of extra time to farm.
“I thought the grass would make better use of the land,” Speck says. “I haven’t had to sacrifice much income, and it has produced a lot of wildlife.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service paid for the switchgrass seed that Speck planted. He bought South Dakota foundation seed so that he could sell certified seed. The big bluestem was paid for by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.
Speck, a former NRCS employee and current Hand County Conservation District supervisor, plans to try planting field peas in the switchgrass this spring. Young pheasants will like the insects that will be attracted to the field peas during the growing season, he says. In the fall, the dried peas that fall to the ground will be good food for pheasants.
“There are a lot of pheasants and deer here,” Speck says. In February, he was hauling in bales that he had used for deer blinds during hunting season and saw at least 30 to 40 deer, “and I was not really looking for deer,” Speck says. “I also see a lot of pheasants here too … it’s nothing to see 25 to 50 birds around my grass fields.”
If you are interested in growing switchgrass or big bluestem and hope to make money by selling seed and hay, Speck advises that you find a market for the seed first. Then find someone to harvest the seed and plant the grass for you. Some specialized equipment and knowledge is needed. “It’s best to work backward from marketing to planting,” Speck says.
This article published in the April, 2014 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.
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