Bringing overgrazed pasture back from the dead: Be patient, have a plan
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
May 7, 2019
- Reseeding is often not enough: Restoring a pasture’s nutrient and pH balance can take a year or more
- Whether it’s 10 acres or 40, landowners should first know what animals they want to support with their pasture
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — New landowners sometimes face a daunting challenge: How to make the most of newly-acquired pasture land that has been overgrazed for years. The soil may lay bare, incapable of the forage production necessary to support a substantial number of animals.
Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said it’s not an uncommon predicament.
“Many times, retirees and young families want to get into small-scale farming, and buy land ‘out in the country’ — perhaps 10 acres of pasture or 40 acres of mixed pasture and woods,” Philipp said.
“There is a lot of value in owners with no previous experience tackling agriculture,” he said. “It contributes to the valuation of food production, rural aesthetics and keeping small farms in existence.”
Philipp offered six key steps to bringing dilapidated pastures back to their full production glory:
Establish your objective
Be clear about what you want, and why. Do you need pastures for horses, or do you want to start a small cattle operation with a few mother cows? Where do you see your farm in 10 years? Do you want the farm to generate income?
Be realistic about your time frame
“Pastures don’t become productive overnight,” Philipp said. “They’re a dynamic entity that changes over the years. They have to be constantly managed.”
Renovating — or newly planting — pastures takes a minimum of 12 months until they’re ready to be put into full use, if done right, during which time the land can’t be used for grazing livestock.
Soil management is key
“Most of the time, pastureland was not the original ecosystem, so the soil type is actually not natural suited for pasture land,” Philipp said. Landowners should get a soil testing profile, including the pH balance.
“The application of lime may be necessary for the first few years,” he said.
Establish a forage plan
Landowners need to be clear about what animals they want to support with their new pastures, then choose a forage that takes into account climatic and topographic factors, as well.
Make a budget
Knowing what you’ll need to spend is as important a step as any other, Philipp said.
“Find out about the various costs involved with pasture reestablishment,” he said. “Seeding costs can be substantial for forages such as novel endophyte tall fescue, or native warm season grasses.”
Landowners should also consider costs for water access and fencing.
Take advantage of available resources
Reach out to the Cooperative Extension Service office in your county — they are a wealth of knowledge about what typically works (and what usually doesn’t) in your area. Contact cost-share agencies as well, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and see what programs are available to assist you.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service