Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Mexico Summer Tour

By Les Owen, New Mexico Section

The New Mexico Section of the Society for Range Management held its Summer Tour on July 22, 2011 at the NMSU Corona Range and Livestock Research Center. Ranch Superintendent, Shad Cox, started the day off with an overview of operations on the 42 section ranch located in central New Mexico. The CRLRC is a unique research facility in that research and ranch operations are funded by commercial livestock production (cattle and sheep) and hunting opportunities on the ranch. A large collection of research literature is available on the CRLRC website.

The first stop was in a pasture where juniper was mechanically controlled in the late 1970s. Dr. Andrés Cibils is leading a research project using very large scale aerial photography and specialized software to analyze re-invading juniper sapling density effects on grass production. Preliminary data indicate that when sapling size reaches 1 meter cover, grass production decreases significantly.

Stop 2 was in a pasture where roughly half was open grassland and half juniper woodland. GPS collars were fitted on cattle and mule deer to determine habitat preference for each species based on tree densities, time of year, and climatic conditions. Data show that both mule deer and cattle start to avoid woodland areas when canopy cover exceeds 40%.

The third site was an area where an intensive targeted grazing study was conducted using goats and sheep to control juniper saplings. Results only indicated a 5% kill on saplings, with most controlled individuals being smaller in size. The majority of the saplings were too large and established for the targeted grazing to be highly effective. Targeted grazing can be an effective tool for managing juniper saplings that are small and could be a good complementary tool with other control mechanisms.

Just before lunch we visited a half section pasture where re-invading juniper was controlled using individual plant treatments of Velpar. Around 95% control was achieved for close to $9.50 per acre application cost. The CRLRC employed the services of the NMSU Range Club to apply the treatment which resulted in good experience for the students and an effective control for the CRLRC. Tour Sponsor and DuPont Representative, Jack Lyons, provided information about placement of soil application of Velpar in relation to the edge of the juniper drip line.

Lunch was served at the almost completed Southwest Center for Rangeland Sustainability located near the center of the ranch. Shad Cox provided a tour of the new facility which will serve as a centrally located venue in New Mexico for educational programs related to agriculture. The facility houses a classroom, conference room, offices, and a commercial kitchen. Look forward to hearing of many more great programs being hosted at this facility.

After lunch we moved on to a site where individual juniper plants in plots received either a foliar application of Surmount or tree drip line application of Tordon. Tour Sponsor and Dow Representative, Greg Alpers, provided information about the applications and emerging technology using electrostatically charged herbicide to vastly improve efficacy of aerial treatments. Trials have been conducted on mesquite and cholla with promising results.

Next a research project using VLSA photography to estimate juniper biomass for use as a biofuel was visited. After the photography was acquired, each juniper was individually harvested, mulched and weighed to calibrate the estimation tool. This was done on two separate plots where about 50 tons of biomass was harvested. Researchers are able to use data from this project to accurately estimate standing juniper biomass using VLSA photography. Note in the picture background a strange phenomenon having to do with darkening skies that has been rumored to happen in the past around New Mexico.

Our 7th stop of the day was a hydrology study in juniper woodlands where soil moisture sensors were placed in replicated plots where Spike had been used to control juniper and control plots. Data showed a 3 fold increase in grass production in treated plots, but due to the low average rainfall neither control or treated plot soil sensors indicated moisture penetration that would lead to aquifer recharge.

Our final stop of the day was to a study where Spike was used to control juniper in the mid 1990s and Rx fire was used as a follow up treatment in 2003 to control emerging saplings. Differences in forage production between the pasture where the Spike treatment was followed with Rx fire and that without fire was significant. Sapling emergence in the non-burned pasture caused a decrease in grass production.

The NMSRM Summer Tour had a great tour and we are very appreciative to NMSU and the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center for hosting the event. We also would like to thank our tour sponsors: Dow, DuPont, and NorthStar Helicopters.

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