Author

Steven R. Cox

Date of Award:

2013

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Plants, Soils, and Climate

Advisor/Chair:

Earl Creech

Abstract

Rising fertilizer prices have led a return to the use of grass-legume mixtures to reduce N costs and improve pasture productivity. The objective of this study was to determine optimal species combinations of binary grass-legume mixtures to improve forage production and pasture nutritive value in irrigated pastures of the Intermountain West. The study was conducted at the Utah State University Intermountain Pature Research Facility near Lewiston, UT. Tall Fescue (TF), Orchardgrass (OG), and meadow brome (MB) were grown with alfalfa (ALF), birdsfoot trefoil (BFTF), and cicer milkvetch (CMV) in legume-grass mixes and monocultures at planting ratios of 25:75, 50:50, 75:25. Grass monocultures were fertilized with 0 (0 N), 67 (67 N), or 134 kg N ha-1 (134 N). Forage was harvested four times each season during 2011-2012. Forage of the mixtures and monocultures from the first and third harvests was analyzed for crude protein (CP) and neutral-detergent fiber (NDF). Average forage production of the unfertilized TF, MB, and OG monocultures was 11.03, 9.76, and 8.10 Mg ha-1, respectively. TF-ALF, OG-ALF, and MB-ALF grass-legume mixes averaged 24.0, 35.0, and 41.0% higher forage production than their respective unfertilized grass monocultures. The grass-legume mixtures with the highest CP were MB-ALF 159, TF-ALF 159, and TF-OG-159 g kg-1 and average 59, 43 and 51% higher than their respective unfertilized grass monocultures. Likewise, the mixtures with the lowest NDF were OG-ALF 453 g kg-1, OG-BFTF 469 g kg-1, and MB-ALF 480 g kg-1. These mixtures had 10, 7, and 18% lower NDF than their respective unfertilized grass monocultures. Individual harvests had similarly higher yields and CP, with lower NDF for the mixtures than the unfertilized grass monocultures. The grass-legume mixture with the 50:50 planting ratio were most productive and had high forage quality. The grass-legume mixtures had similar forage production as the grass monocultures at 134 kg N ha-1. The grass-legume mixtures also had higher CP and lower NDF than the grass monocultures. Cicer milkvetch did not perform well in irrigated pastures. Grass-legume mixtures with ALF and BFTF can be used to replace commercial N while increasing forage nutritive value.

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