Cheatgrass restoration challenge reveals diverse plots, strategies for weed control
Lingle – The final year of the Cheatgrass Restoration Challenge at the University of Wyoming (UW) James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) revealed a lot of diversity in the 13 plots in the contest.
“The Cheatgrass Restoration Challenge started in Lingle three years ago,” according to Brian Mealor, UW Sheridan Research and Extension Center Director, who oversaw the project. “It is a contest that was about taking a widespread and very important resource concern, which is the invasion of cheatgrass and its impacts across the western U.S., to see how others would approach it.”
Mealor explains, “Instead of a research team implementing treatments and collecting data through time, we appreciate there is a lot of local, expert knowledge around from people who know how to control weeds.”
“We had people from producers and students to government agencies who actively addressed these concerns and came to the center to compete in this competition,” he says.
After three years and a number of treatment methods, Mealor announced the winner of the contest during the SAREC Open House in late August.
Larry Cundall of Cundall Ranch in Glendo, Sydney Bureks and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnered to come out on top of the 13 teams competing in the diverse competition.
While accepting a belt buckle, Cundall told producers that this competition was an opportunity for ranchers to work with NRCS and share ideas.
“It is the way it should be,” he said. “We were able to bounce a lot of ideas back and forth to improve the vegetation on our plot.”
After touring the plots during the open house, producers were able to vote on the “People’s Choice winner,” which was the SAREC team composed of Brian Lee, Kevin Madden and Troy Cecil.
Their treatment method consisted of spraying, mowing and reseeding the plot to wheatgrass. During the tour, producers noticed a nice stand of wheatgrass had overtaken the plot, helping them gain the win.
Learning from the contest
Mealor told producers he learned a lot from this contest, and the best part has been analyzing the data and doing evaluations.
“One of the reasons I wanted this contest was because I was tired of people asking me how to get rid of cheatgrass and not knowing the best answer,” he told producers. “I wanted to see how other people would approach it. This contest has drawn interest from a lot of producers who are concerned with cheatgrass and what they can do to eliminate it.”
The contest was approved for a three-year run starting in the spring of 2015. Everyone in the contest had to agree to a set of criteria that would be used to judge each team’s performance, including how much cheatgrass they eliminated, how much forage productivity was improved, diversity of desirable species on the site and scalability.
“We also wanted to know how scalable the practices were if they were implemented across a larger area,” Mealor explained.
Other criteria were economical treatments, which included the benefits and costs of each of the different practices, and an educational program.
“The challenge was to take a piece of ground that was almost entirely cheatgrass and restore it with perennial cover for diversity, using economically sound and appropriate practices,” one contestant says in a video about the contest.
“Cheatgrass is something of interest to every producer and agency,” another added.
It also served as a unique opportunity for students to take what they learned in rangeland studies and other agriculture classes and apply it to a real-life scenario.
The contest also educated even the most seasoned professionals.
“We can look at these plots for education of what did and didn’t work and what people can try,” Mealor says. “We had everyone from current undergrads at UW, whose team was a rotation of students, to seasoned professionals who had been at it for a long time.”
“Everyone’s practices were diversified – from a very minimalist approach that engaged only a few practices they thought would move the ball forward to some teams who were very active in the number of practices they did,” he says.
During the contest, plots were disked, burned, sprayed, mowed and grazed with cattle and goats in attempt to reduce the cheatgrass populations.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.