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Volume 11, Number 3 - March 2005

This Month in Ag Connection

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Grazing Management to Enhance Legume Production

For years, you have been hearing about the importance of establishing legumes in fescue based pastures. Many have tried with limited success. To really understand why legume interseeding can fail, we need to understand a little bit about plant growth.

All plants, regardless of size, need moisture, nutrients and sunlight to grow. The major problem with interseeding legumes is that the grass plants are already established, and have the advantage when it comes to competing for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Management of the grass is critical in providing the opportunity for the legume seedlings to become established in the pasture.

Cool-season grasses grow very aggressively in the spring. Initial leaf growth is quickly followed by the emergence of the stem and seedhead. It is in this early stage of grass growth shortly after spring green-up that management can impact both the survival of legume seedlings and the growth and forage quality of the entire pasture during the summer months. Granted, growth of cool-season grasses slows considerably during the summer months, but proper management can extend the period of grass growth later into the summer.

Begin grazing early and rapidly rotate livestock through the pastures. The idea early in the grazing season is to allow the animals to "top off" the grass. Do not begin grazing one pasture and eat it entirely into the ground before moving the animals to another pasture. This will simply allow non-grazed pastures to get ahead of the livestock. If this happens, eventually forage growth and forage quality rapidly decline and legumes will not have a chance to compete for moisture, nutrients and light.

Rapid rotations through pastures help keep cool-season grass growth in check. Benefits to this type of management include less seedhead formation, increased grass leaf growth, and more light available for legume seedlings to collect. These three things, in turn, create a pasture that produces more energy and protein for livestock to harvest.

The other major management consideration to help with legume establishment and persistence in grass dominant pastures is fertilizing to favor the legumes. This generally means paying more attention to pH, soil phosphorus and potassium levels, and using less nitrogen. Soil tests are critical to determining the proper blend of fertilizer.

If you are not rotationally grazing, clipping pastures shortly after seedhead emergence can also be beneficial. Another option is to fence off a portion of the pasture and harvest it for hay. When adequate regrowth has occurred, remove the fence. Both practices must be done in the spring in order to be effective in assisting with legume establishment and persistence.

Many of these concepts are discussed at the regional grazing schools. If you haven't attended one of them, perhaps you should reconsider. There may be some ideas you can gather that will work on your operation.

(Author: Gene Schmitz, Livestock Specialist)

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Taxation Tidbit: Itemized Deductions - Sales Tax & Bunching

The 2004 Jobs Act signed by the President in October provides a new option in calculating itemized deductions. Itemized deductions are those expenses individual taxpayers can subtract from adjusted gross income to determine their taxable income. The "major items" of itemized deductions are: home mortgage interest, state income and property taxes, and contributions to charities. The new wrinkle, added by the Jobs Act, is the option to deduct the greater of your state income tax or general sales tax paid.

The first decision you must make is to claim either the standard deduction or itemized deductions. For 2004, the standard deduction is $4,850 for single taxpayers and $9,700 for married joint filers.

To calculate the sales tax amount - the IRS provides a sales tax table for each state which will enable you to determine the appropriate sales tax amount based on the level of your income and number of exemptions. To this "table amount of sales tax" you can add sales tax paid on acquisitions of motor vehicles, boat, home, or home building materials. Thus, if you acquired some expensive "toys" during 2004 - you will definitely want to investigate this new option.

As a side note: taxpayers with itemized deductions just under or just over the standard deduction amount should give consideration to bunching their itemized deductions. For example, doubling the annual contribution to your favorite charities in one year insures a healthy itemized deduction for that year and you would still qualify for the standard deduction the following year. If you make house mortgage payments, you could also make your January payment in December of the year you are bunching your itemized deductions. Additionally, if you were going to purchase a personal vehicle or "expensive toy" you would want to purchase it in the year you are bunching your itemized deductions.

(Parman R. Green, Ag Business Management Specialist)

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The Grass Isn't Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence -- Forage Production; Missouri vs. Colorado

After spending 15 years in Missouri working with pasture and forage management issues, I worked two years in Northeast Colorado, next to the Nebraska - Kansas - Colorado border. Average annual precipitation is approximately 17 inches per year versus Central Missouri's 38 inches. The differences between climate and plant communities that exist in these environments provide me with unique perspectives as I return to Missouri.

Barbed Wire

Groundwater irrigation was plentiful in some areas and depleted in others. In some areas, those who irrigated with ditch water faced limited water availability due to a lingering, multi-year drought in many of the mountainous areas of the state. Mountain snow melt provides water for agricultural and urban uses in many areas of Colorado.

The first difference is pasture carrying capacity. In Northeast Colorado, stocking rates range from 10 to 40 acres per cow-calf pair for the growing season versus two to three in Central Missouri. A lingering drought has reduced those normal carrying capacities in many instances. I recall standing in the corner of a 4,000 acre pasture that would have had to struggle to feed 50 cow-calf pairs. In some parts of Northeast Colorado, and especially in the southern half of the state, the continued drought has resulted in the death of many native range species. Native range plants have evolved to handle periods of drought and grazing, but the continued drought has all but eliminated some native range plant communities. This will leave the range open to a wide variety of invasive species encroachment once rainfall conditions improve. Even if there is native reseeding, it will take years for some of those range areas to recover as opposed to Missouri where we recover much quicker.

The second major difference is related to the first. Range improvement is very long term. Reseeding and weed control are not done with frost seeding, no-till drills or chemicals. There are simply too many acres to cover or treat for those practices to be cost effective. If a range improvement practice costs $5/acre and your carrying capacity is 25 acres per cow-calf unit, you've just spent $125 per cow for that practice. The beef business is pretty good right now, but it's not good enough to stand that kind of investment.

Grazing management in that part of the world is imperative to survival of the ranch. Overgrazing combined with drought can quickly lead to a situation that may not be overcome for ten years or more. This is why many western operations either significantly downsized or completely de-stocked their native range. It's a pretty simple equation: no rain equals no grass; no grass equals no cattle.

Grazing management is very much related to water management. Rotational grazing allows for a more controlled defoliation of the range and helps reduce overgrazed areas. This in turn allows the range to collect and store more moisture throughout the year.

Overgrazed, short-grass pastures are particularly susceptible to excessive water runoff during summer thunderstorms. The rain may fall, but it may also simply run off the range if there is nothing there to stop the water. Short, overgrazed pastures do not collect snow as it blows past. In western states, if moisture falls, you better be in a position to capture it. Rotational grazing systems help maintain ground cover of adequate type to help collect water in what ever form it arrives in. The concept works as well in arid environments as it does in wetter climates.

Generally, native range communities are a blend of cool-season and warm-season grasses and forbs. Western ranchers rotate the season in which individual pastures are grazed. This helps maintain a balanced plant community that is neither cool-season nor warm-season dominant. Rotational grazing systems help ranchers control grazing frequency and intensity which leads to more productive pastures. Blending cool-season and warm-season forages in Missouri is not a good idea.

A thirty-year-old idea of irrigating cool-season grass pastures is receiving renewed interest in some of the irrigated regions of Northeast Colorado. Endophyte-free tall fescue is one of the forage species that produces very well under irrigation on the High Plains. Other cool-season grass species used in these systems are smooth bromegrass, orchardgrass, meadow bromegrass and several wheatgrass species. Legumes which do well in this setting include alfalfa, some of the clover species, birdsfoot trefoil, and sainfoin. Carrying capacity of these irrigated systems can be 2/3 to 1½ acres per cow/calf pair for the grazing season (May through October) depending on management. The advantage of these systems is that water and nitrogen can be easily and readily added, but it isn't cheap. Average annual water and fertilizer cost for an irrigated grass circle will approach $90 to $100 per acre. In some instances, though, ranchers may have irrigation water in the spring which can be used to irrigate the pasture. The pasture can then go dormant during the summer when irrigation water may not be available. Thus they can at least harvest one "crop" from those irrigated acres during the year.

It's easy to take forage production in Central Missouri for granted. Mud causes a lot of problems, but generally won't force the sale of the farm and a lifetime of work. Droughts, when they occur, usually last weeks or months, not years. Pastures do not get hailed out in Missouri. Forage production, and thus carrying capacity, is fairly predictable from year to year. In Missouri, land costs per cow unit are competitive, and in many cases cheaper, than almost anywhere else in the United States. I guess what I have come to appreciate about Missouri is the capability to produce an abundance of forage that has relatively good quality and is produced relatively cheaply. That's the reason Missouri is the second largest cow-calf state in the United States.

I have been fortunate to have lived and traveled in many parts of the U.S. One of the most fascinating things I've learned is how ranchers and farmers adapt to a variety of conditions. I've always urged producers to travel, visit farms and ranches in other parts of the country and ask a lot of questions. It's amazing the things you learn and you might be surprised what you see when you get back home. Maybe fighting some mud isn't so bad after all.

(Author: Gene Schmitz, Livestock Specialist)

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Show-Me-Select Sale Results

Missouri beef cow producers sold 13,869 heifers in Missouri Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer sales for $13,864,702 during the sales held from 1997 through 2004.

"That's an average of $1,000 per heifer," says David Patterson, state extension beef specialist at the University of Missouri. In 2004 two spring sales and five fall sales were held. The 501 heifers sold in the two spring sales sold for an average of $1,403. During the five fall sales 1,148 sold for an average of $1,332. Those prices were the highest average for any of the seven years Show-Me-Select heifers have been sold.

Average heifer price during the five 2004 sales were remarkably close. Highest average was $1,397 for 204 heifers sold at the Joplin Stockyards in southwest Missouri. Other averages were $1,384 for 213 heifers sold at Mountain Grove; $1,303 for 306 heifers sold at Kingsville; $1,300 for 204 heifers sold at Fruitland; and $1,240 for 221 heifers sold at Palmyra.

The one thing that did make a difference in the sale price was the condition of the heifers. The heifers that had the minimum condition score needed to qualify for the sale sold for $260 less than comparable heifers in better condition.

For more information about Show-Me-Select or any other University of Missouri Extension livestock programs, contact your regional livestock specialist, Wendy Flatt in Howard County (660) 248-2272, Mark Stewart in Callaway County (573) 642-0755 or Gene Schmitz in Benton County (660) 438-5012.

(Author: Wendy Flatt, Livestock Specialist)

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Sheep Shearing School and Wool Grading Clinic

Lincoln University will host a sheep shearing school on Friday, March 18, 2005 at the University's Carver Farm in Jefferson City located on Bald Hill Road. The one-day shearing school will be taught by Doug Rathke of Hutchinson, MN aided by Alex McClure of Midstates Wool Growers Cooperative. Alex will be furnishing all shearing equipment for the students. The class will begin at 9:00 a.m. on March 18, 2005 and continue until the students are finished shearing the sheep.

Sheep shearing

There is a fee of $50 payable to: Doug Rathke.

Mail to:
Helen A. Swartz
Box 29
Lincoln University
Jefferson City, MO 65102-0029

Contact Helen A. Swartz for more information at: 573-681-5540 or e-mail:

The Carver Farm will also be the site for a Wool Grading Clinic on Saturday, March 19, 2005. Instructors will be Helen Swartz, Genetics of Wool and Alex Mcclure will teach wool grading, packaging, management and marketing wool. Learn more about all aspect of wool production to increase dollars and selection for improvement of the wool clip.

A fee of $10, payable to Alex McClure should be mailed to Helen A. Swartz at the above address. Free to contact Helen Swartz for further information on either of these events coming up March 18-19, 2005.

(Author: Mark Stewart, Livestock Specialist)

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Publishing Information

Ag Connection is published monthly for Central Missouri Region producers and is supported by University of Missouri Extension, the Commercial Agriculture program, the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station and the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Managing Editor: Kent Shannon.