Restoring native C4 grasses to grazed agroecosystems

Growing interest in prairie restoration provides us with a unique opportunity to blend conservation efforts with agricultural production by integrating tallgrass prairie species into grazing systems. Potential benefits of this approach have agronomic (improved forage quantity and seasonal distribution), ecological (increased genetic diversity and ecosystem function), and social (niche markets, promotion of farmers as land stewards) dimensions. In past projects, we have 1) tested management techniques to promote the establishment of native, warm-season (C4) prairie grasses sown into cool-season (C3) grass pastures 2) evaluated the persistence of native C4 grasses under summer bison grazing, 3) administered a written survey of 800 Wisconsin farmers to understand the current status of native grass use and farmer attitudes towards native grasses and 4) developed a research brief for farmers discussing the use of native grasses.

Currently, we are evaluating forage quantity and quality and pasture carbon sequestration potential under a gradient of cool-season to warm-season grass ratios. This work will provide information on the proportion of C4 grasses needed in working lands to achieve agronomic and ecological benefits. In addition, we are researching the establishment, management, and persistence of native warm-season grass pastures in Wisconsin. This study compares the suitability of named varieties versus local ecotypes of native warm-season grasses and evaluates their persistence under several grazing regimes.

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