Together, we can combat climate change through forage plant diversification!
The OPN team had an amazing opportunity to attend the second of two Novel Forage Field Tours held at the NRCS Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Corvallis on August 3rd. We learned about forage varieties that could be the future of warm weather farming in Oregon, as well as how farmers can increase their overall farm and pasture health through diversification and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Put on by the NRCS, Oregon State University, and Benton SWCD, the purpose of the tour was to follow up on the 104 forage varieties that had been planted by the PMC staff beginning in October of last year.. The tour was led by agronomist Ian Silvernail of the PMC and professor Serken Ates of the OSU department of animal and rangeland sciences.
What was the forage plant diversification study?
The main goal of this study was to identify forages that were most tolerant to warm temperatures, lack of water, and poor soil health, all while increasing biomass diversity and plant health. The forages planted included brassicas, grains, grasses, and cover crop varieties. Sewn in October, March, and May, the majority of the varieties were not irrigated.
To ensure fair results, the NRCS team planted all seeds at the same depth, and harvested regularly, which was done to better demonstrate each forage’s resilience and ability to continue production. The forages were then tested for nutrients and bioactive compounds to better understand just how different their environments became based on planting date. There will be continued study on this by Serken Ates, who has a particular interest in the nutritional analysis and bioactive compounds that are present in many of the perennial forbs and legumes.
How does this help farmers combat climate change?
The benefits of this study for pasture focused producers are immense. It generated a list of new varieties that farmers can integrate into their pastures, depending on their overall pasture and livestock nutrition goals. Varieties such as Spanish Clover, a native clover to Oregon, that have never been used in a study like this before highlight the importance of including native varieties for pasture diversity. Having variability in forage can potentially increase biomass production for better and more resilient soil. Better soil and plant health, in turn, means better nutrition for livestock. Variability also allows for multiple forage options throughout the season, especially as farmers face increased feed costs, warmer weather and water restrictions.
Having diverse forage options helps livestock too! Imagine if you had to eat one food for the rest of your life. Not only would you be missing key nutrients, you would probably get tired of that food pretty quickly. The same goes for our animals. If we can increase the variety of plants that they have access to for forage, and also varieties that are palatable to them, we will increase their overall health and quality of life.
The benefits will also go back into farmer’s pockets. Having plants that are more accustomed to variations in weather means that farmers will have a longer grazing season on average. Even a couple of extra weeks where farmers don’t have to buy supplemental feed can make a world of difference to a farmer’s bottom line.
The Findings of the Study So Far…
The most pressing findings from this study, however, were related to how farmers can combat the growing threat of climate change. Trialing and growing forages that farmers can use to bolster resiliency in a new warm weather climate is crucial in building a sustainable future for food production in Oregon. Though the findings have not been finalized, there were only a few varieties that were capable of producing quality pasture forage despite extreme conditions. One such variety was Burseem Clover. It managed to build a strong root system and produce plenty of harvestable forage regardless of planting date, weather, and soil health. Though this is just one example, we are hopeful that the findings will highlight at least a few additional examples of drought tolerant and nutritionally dense forages.
Experimenting and using these forages could be the future for Oregon’s pasture based producers. It is entirely likely that the traditional forage plant varieties we use now will not be able to stay productive under strenuous and changing weather conditions. Hopefully the findings that will be released by the NRCS will give us a good starting point to begin planning for the future, so that we can keep our farms, animals, and businesses healthy, resilient and viable!
If you would like more information and resources about building climate resilience for your farm, we recommend heading over to the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network (ORCAN) website. They provide a breadth of information for farmers on how they can develop a climate minded business model, and they provide valuable connections across the state for farmers working for a better future.
We would like to thank the NRCS, OSU, and Benton SWCD for hosting this tour, and a special thank you to Ian Silvernail and Serken Ates for making it an engaging experience. We had an amazing time and got to meet up with plenty of our friends like Dr. Woody Lane, Dr. Shayan Ghajar, and Gordon Jones to name a few. If another of these tours is held in a year to talk about the perennials, we will be the first to sign up and we hope you do too!