Same Area in May Before 2010 Monsoons

This picture shows what winter moisture did for plants between the furrows.  Area to right in this picture was not subsoiled; obviously it received the same rainfall.

Posted by Chris Gill

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.

  1. My friend Abe Collins made this comment about this photo:Hi Chris,Thanks for the photos. Interesting to see the apparent water benefits in the side by side shot. I hope to see a big annual bloom with the next rains in the disturbed areas. I’m with Ken on the benefits of sowing. I know that the sorghum (milo) is what you have on hand, but keep the relationship between drought and prussic acid production in mind as you continue the program – http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/livestoc/v1150w.htm Millet doesn’t have the same prussic acid danger and often succeeds in low rainfall where even sorghum fails. Interesting to see how your alternating strips compare. One way or the other, I suspect that both will set seed and give you lots of bird seed later in the year. At hundreds or thousands too one ROI, planting the seed instead of just feeding the birds directly is a pretty good return!I hear Ken’s concern about the soils running together faster using the roller, but if you’re dragging steel anyway, the rollers could have multiple benefits…..recycling some of the shrubs as litter cover, less surface area exposed for evaporation/capillary action, more soil disturbance to get increased germination. No dogma here, but it would be interesting to see the results. The photos I’d sent earlier of the land that went from near total bare ground to almost 100% cover with no seeding and one big rain was done with a Yeomans crumble roller. (photos attached)Legumes like dryland alfalfa or other deep rooted locals and a deep rooted forbe like chicory would be fun to experiment with. Through mycorrhizal union, the deep rooted plants link with the shallower plants and keep everything growing longer in dry periods. See below.”Influence of deep-rooted species on drought tolerance of pasture mixtures Howard Skinner. This rainout shelter experiment examined the growth response and water relations under drought conditions of white clover/perennial ryegrass and white clover/orchardgrass mixtures growing with or without chicory as a deep-rooted companion species. Drought was imposed by withholding water for about 30 d in June and again in August of 2003 and 2004. In 2003, drought had no effect on yield in plots containing chicory, while yield was reduced by 20% in the grass/legume mixtures. In 2004, yield was reduced by 45 to 50% in all plots, both with or without chicory. During the first year, chicory comprised about 31% of harvested biomass, but the proportion of chicory had declined to 12% in the second year. Future work is needed to precisely determine the amount of chicory needed to improve the drought tolerance of pasture mixtures.”It may seem resource intensive, but I support your “farming” experiments with the plow, seed and grazing to get some biomass going to pump carbon downstairs and jump-start the land turn-around. A lot of those alluvial plains stretching from the hills and buttes get massive influxes of water from the mountain outlets and have great soil to grow bumper crops – catching and spreading that water in aerated soil could give you the equivalent of multiple feet of precip in those large areas, and you can manipulate the grazing and nighttime parking of the critters to spread the benefits. It’ll be interesting to see the cost benefit over time of your labors.Keep up the great work. Here’s a link to me maintaining the herd density in my circumstance: apologies for the video/audio quality. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NI4p1K_2fWEBest,Abe

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  2. Range ripping and the related practice of range pitting was practiced in the southwestern states after bulldozers became widely available around 1940. Ripping was practiced for 20 years or so and then went into a hiatus until the past 15 years, at least in Texas, when it was revived by Dr. Darrell Ueckert, Range Researcher with Texas AgriLife Extension in San Angelo. If you Google “range ripping and pitting Darrell Ueckert” you will see many of his research projects. They tried different widths of rips and different depths all on the contour. They tried different spacings and numbers of rippers so read through this research for more information. I’ll post a pdf showing plant root depths as a separate attachment.Ricky

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  3. Wayne McCallum July 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Chris,Thanks for the pictures and the comments.From the look of things, the number of chisels and the depth of rip probably use up most of the tractor horsepower. If you add chisels or chisel deeper, you may need to add more tractor to pull with an acceptable speed.A casual comment from picture observation.Great moisture penetration though with a 1/3 inch rain. But where in/on the soil are the forb seeds you want to sprout and is the 4 inch penetration too deep to sprout and grow the forbs. It should be wonderful for existing perennial plants but I don’t know about forbs. Maybe it will be like here where the disturbance is the important thing combined with the moisture.I don’t know the answer to the above but would sure like your follow up info.Thanks for sharing the pictures Chris. See you in Kingsville.Wayne McCallum

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  4. Dear Wayne,Here are my comments, the best I can do.We were told about 10 hp per chisel so you are probably right about more chisels being impractical for our 67 hp tractor. Let me see what Yeomans says.Increasing the plow depth does not seem to affect the tractor’s ability to pull it and this surprised me. I think on reflection, the explanation must be that since the chisel runs at a very flat 25-degree angle, the resistance difference is five shanks times 3/4 inch width per inch of depth. This is almost nothing in added resistance if we go an inch or two deeper. But deeper may not be better physiologically, and I want Yeomans’ advice. It might seem like the planting would be deep as the chisel is down 12-14 inches. Yes, after the plow passes there is a friable groove of soil 12-14 inches deep. The seeds should remain in the upper part of this column since no soil inversionoccurred. That is the key point: this plow turns almost nothing over. Inverting, or turning over soil, as in conventional discing which is so widely practiced, harms soil by exposing organic matter to air causing it to oxidize, creates moisture barriers, and kills the perennial grass plants which build soil. Short term you get forbs but at the cost of long term soil damage.We have seed pots but are not seeding at first. Seeds are already in the desert soil and as you know, they can remain there dormant for 40 years and longer. And, if you look at the photos you will see lots of grass plants and forbs like annual broomweed with seeds maturing or matured. These seeds also fall, blow or wash into the groves. The conditions for germination in the grooves are altogether different from bare, capped soil uncovered by litter, including having air, humidity and penetrability. Yeomans advises seeding legumes to fix nitrogen but what is a desert-tolerant legume? I can find some small trees but no perennial plants like alfalfa that would survive. This one stumps me.The deep chisel action causes a lateral fracture at the chisel depth, and also creates continuous grooves down into which water can pour. This allows humidity and air to penetrate deep and then spread out, which encourages and allows roots to penetrate downwards and gives soil life air and humidity. Once roots are down, carbon is sequestered as sugars from roots get used by microbes. Topsoil is formed by this process of carbon being added to soil as well as from root penetration and insect transport of organic matter. In fact, topsoil creation is really as simple as just getting roots down into what was before clay or hardpan. This happens much faster, and is very different, than my understanding of what conventional soil science says is possible. Invigoration of existing plants from this process is different from seed germination. Many of these grasses spread by tillers or just grow larger. So we are talking about making existing plants healthier, as well as getting germination of seeds for new plants.Here are some links for your information:http://www.yeomansplow.com.au/yeomans-plows.htmhttp://www.keyline.com.au/http://agwaterstewards.org/txp/Resource-Center-Articles/21/keyline-designhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contour_plowinghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyline_designNote that Keyline refers to 1) an improved way of contour plowing with the Yeomans plow, and also, 2) a method of capturing, storing, and irrigating with storm runoff. I am speaking here of only the plowing.I have been unable to obtain any information whatever on these practices from our range agencies. So, I am consulting with folks in Australia, where these plows and techniques have been in use for over 60 years! The plow parts came from there but it was built in upstate New York.

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