AoR 49: Steve Fransen, How Grass Grows is More Exciting Than You Think

Did you think of dormant-season grazing as grazing standing hay--not much to worry about? There's more going on in the plant than you think. Dr. Steve Fransen sheds some light on multiple dormancy and root shedding periods in grasses as well as eight other growth phases where there is more than meets the eye. Knowledge of these phases should change how we think about grazing grass throughout the year. Dr. Fransen is leading a Pacific Northwest Inland Pasture Calendar project designed to guide grazing management through detailed understanding of plant physiology and phenology. This project will help ranchers and other varieties of 'grass farmers' optimize pasture and rangeland and hay productivity for maximum profitability. Dr. Fransen, Washington State University's forage specialist, has a team of experts offering a 3-day training that is available to anyone interested. This material is applicable to anyone anywhere who is growing cool-season forage species. Register for the November 3-6, 2020 online conference and training at After the event, we will post the conference materials webpage in this same space. That website will host ongoing training opportunities. 


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>> Welcome to the art of range, a podcast focused on range lands and the people who manage them. I'm your host Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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Well, it is my privilege to have on the art of range today Dr. Steven Fransen. Dr. Fransen has been a forage specialist for a few decades at the Washington State University Prosser Research Station. Steve, welcome to the show.

>> Thank you so much, Tip. It's my pleasure and honor to be with you today.

>> I've worked for WSU since 2003. And we've known each other at least since then. Which is a little while, but you have been at WSU for quite a while before I started with WSU. How did you end up being a forage researcher?

>> It goes way, way back. You mentioned decades, Tip, and it's true. Actually it started when I was an undergraduate in plant soil science department at Montana state university in Bozeman back in the early 70s. And I worked for a fellow over the summer, and he was a USDA ARS forage scientist. And I just really fell in love with their plants that we were working with. And at that point in time I was drawing from my background, which was being born and raised on a small grain farm in north-central Montana. And thinking maybe we'd go back to that, but these forage plants really caught my attention and my interest. And from that point on that's been my, pretty much, my focus ever since. And had the opportunity after I did my PhD in south Dakota, also with forages and range lands, to be able to come to WSU, and this time it was over on the west side at Puyallup. They have a research and extension center there. So in 1983 I started at the WSU Puyallup research and extension center, and then I was there until 2000. And that's when my predecessor here in Prosser at the research and extension center had retired leaving this position open. So I just essentially transferred my position from Puyallup to Prosser, knowing that I had spent a lot of time over and Puyallup and on the west side. So I could continue to help the west side folks. Plus then I had this new opportunity and experiences to bring to the Prosser folks and eastern Washington. And so I've been at WSU then since 1983. And I have to admit, I've enjoyed every single minute of what I've done. And especially the people who I've worked with in the dairy industry, the livestock industry, the [inaudible]. They've all welcomed me and made me feel really comfortable. And it's been a lot of fun. And I hope it is been productive for them as well, because it certainly has been a lot of fun for me.

>> Good. 1983 was a good year. I think I learned to read that year. And I actually have some long lost relatives in haver that I've never met. But Bozeman probably look a little different than it did when you were there.

>> Oh, my goodness, it's quadrupled in size since we have been there. When we were there the student population at MSU was, like, less than 5,000. And now it's pushing, like, 15, 20,000 students. So it's huge compared to what it used to be. But I think that probably the integrity of the school is very similar to what it has always been. I think that's the one constant, that you can look back on, and also look forward on, and say this is good.

>> Well, you've been working on a project called the Pacific Northwest Inland Pasture Calendar. And this is a follow-up to a Westside Pasture Calendar. For folks that are not from Washington, we have a pretty significant ecological divide down through the middle of, well, actually, Washington, Oregon, and mostly California where the west side of that coastal range looks dramatically different than the east side. In fact, I think Washington state may have the steepest rain shadow in the lower 48. We go -- and I live right in the middle of it. We go from about 120 inches of annual precipitation at the crest of the cascades to about five inches annual precipitation in the space of, I guess, that's 80 miles? Hundred miles?

>> Mm hmm. Yup.

>> It's quite--

>> Yup, pretty close.

>> -- distinct. And the west side of the state receives much more precipitation. And, you know, natural vegetation looks much, much different than the east side of Oregon, Washington, and then central and parts of California. And there's significant differences between how those plants respond. In fact, I've been saying for number of years now -- and, Steve, you can correct me if I'm wrong. That I think this is how much of western rangeland bunch [phonetic] grasses were lost. I think that we brought -- we meaning settlers that moved to the west from the east. Brought ideas about grazing management that were applicable on the sod forming grasses that were dominant in much of the eastern and southern us. And that were also, you know, dominant in the parts of Europe that those settlers originally came from. Namely that those plants can tolerate frequent defoliation and respond positively to that. And most of the western rangeland bunch grasses have, are jointed grasses with elevated meristems, elevated growing points, that cannot tolerate being defoliated throughout the growing season. And this is part of why I wanted to visit with you about this. I think that most rangelands people tend to approach things from a macro perspective. We're always trying to see things at the landscape scale, and understand these landscape level ecological processes that are interacting with each other, and trying to figure out how to fit livestock into that. You know, but every single one of those plants has microscale physiology that is relevant to how those plants respond to livestock grazing. And at least in my experience that often gets lost. And you spent a fair bit of time thinking through and understanding and researching all of those microscale growth processes. And I think this is something that is important to talk about. So that's a pretty long introduction. Tell me a bit about the pasture calendar project.

>> I don't disagree with a single word you said there, Tip. I think that's exactly correct. We brought the concepts and so forth for what we have done here for a long time from elsewhere. And recognizing our environment in the west, everything passed west of the hundredth meridian, which is about divides the united states in half. And west of there were we are here it's pretty darn dry. Especially in the summer, we're very arid, semi arid pretty much throughout the west. And so that makes a huge difference in terms of our weather patterns and what we can grow. Our weather patterns are dictated by what comes out of the pacific ocean. And we have these low pressures and high pressures that are coming out of the gulf of Alaska. And we also get great influence of Hawaii, lows and highs there. And so what happens is the west coast gets clobbered first and foremost from in the united states with these changing weather patterns. And, but historically, and even today, during the summer time we get very, very dry. And so the plants that we use in our grazing systems have adapted and evolved to withstand those drought periods in the summer. And also survived the extreme cold temperatures in the wintertime. Those are two periods when we have tremendous stress on the plants. Going back to looking at your micro versus macro scale out there, on a macro scale things all look very, very similar. But when you get down deep -- and I like [inaudible] to get down on their prayer bones, that's their hands and knees, and I want them to look real close, get that nose right down to that soil level, and I want you to look really close at those plants. And what are they doing, how are they growing, where are they growing from. Dig a few plants up. And then wash the soil off of the roots, and look at what in the world is going on. And that's gonna tell you a lot. And I learned this by accident, to be totally honest with you. We had designed an experiment in Puyallup to determine when did we have root regeneration and root shedding. And we use that term now, we did not use it then. We were assuming that the roots of the grasses there on the west side were growing constantly. And we designed this experiment with ryegrass. And it proved, it, my hypothesis was wrong. And so the first year we started digging and harvesting our plants in may. And we had a lot of white roots underground. But we got into July and there wasn't a single white root. And throughout July and august no white roots at all. Then in September, by gosh here's a whole bunch of new white roots and new growing points. We saw those growing points throughout this, or let's say late august, September, October. And then we get it in early mid-November and, of course then, it's cold on the west side, too, and the plans went into root shedding. Not all of them, but most of them did go into root shedding. And so over wintertime it just, kind of, stayed status quo. Then in the spring we had another event of root regeneration. The roots turned white again. And then, of course, we had our big spring flush of growth. Well, I thought certainly this was something revolutionary, and we need to do something with it. Only to be deflated badly by a good friend of mine, who shared with me a paper published during world war ii in the American journal of botany by a lady botanist. And this lady had exactly seen what I had just observed. Except she didn't do the winter. I consider her to be a fair weather botanist, because she had it all figured out in the spring, the summer, and the fall, but she didn't going and in there and dig out the plants in the wintertime, which is what we did. So, the whole idea, then, was where did these, when did these growing points being. What happened to them. How did our growth cycles begin. And that started to change our entire philosophy, and was truly the basis of our Westside Pasture Calendar. And we've taken that exact same philosophy and used it for inland pasture calendar. And that is that the calendar really starts in early September. Sometimes it may be in late august. It may be after labor day in September, but around that period of time. And it depends, every year's a little bit different, depends on the environmental situation that we've got at that time. There could be two, three weeks of variance that are in there. But that's when we have the correct environmental conditions, which is the shortening day length and the cooling temperatures. We're past the summer heat, and we had that shortening day length. Those are the two key triggers that are gonna create those new apical meristems, or new growing points. Once you've got the new growing point, then you create a new root. And we can see that new growing point was there because we observed the new root. And then you're gonna see a new shoot on top of that apical meristem. So we don't really see the meristem per se, we see the root, we see the shoot. And that tells it that the meristem was created. And you can dig that plant up, and even now in October and likely still see those new growth periods, because we have points because we've not had bad killing frost or snow events at this point in time. So that's, Tip, is what caused us to create and put together this whole concept of a pasture calendar. And because, as you had suggested, Tip, the idea is that when we brought a grazing philosophy into the west where the plants were not adapted to that, we ended up having an overgrazing situation. And our calendar really is based upon the philosophy of to prevent overgrazing, or mitigate the properties of overgrazing, either in dry land or under irrigated pasture conditions.

>> Yeah, I think this is part of what's so challenging in much of the west. I was back in Arkansas visiting my family this summer, and was reminded of the tremendous diversity of land types and forest types that we have in the west. You know, a given rancher may be managing, you know, really arid or semiarid cold desert further south, managing hot desert, you know, that can be side-by-side with irrigated pasture that behaves totally differently. The same operation may be grazing crop aftermath, grazing cover crops that were grown for grazing, may have, you know, mountain pasture with forested range.

>> Mm hmm.

>> These are dramatically different plant communities. And it is not uncommon at all for an individual rancher to be managing all of those inside of their, the pasture calendar year. And so it, I feel like some of these principles for how plants behave, you know, physiologically, just how the plants are wired to work, to the extent that that's applicable across all of those, that would enable a person to, kind of, think for themselves how to manage each of those different range types, pasture types, you know, plant community types in order to do the best thing they can for the plants. I think this is something else that's maybe characteristic of agronomists and a lot of range people. I've become aware that a lot of ranchers, I would say maybe stereotypically, are often thinking about what's best for the cow. Which makes a lot of sense, because what you're going to sell is an animal. Your income is from producing an animal that is as healthy as it can be, that, you know, in the case of a calf, you know, you gained weight well, and ended up at the end of the year. And then you've gotta maintain a mother cow to the end of the, to the next part of the cycle. And sometimes, you know, what's good for the plants can, kind of, get lost in that. And so I feel like one of my jobs, you know, at the macro scale is to help these two perspectives talk to each other, you know, within the rancher's mind to understand how plants function. And then to translate that into what's good for animals. And I've also, I think it's clear to most people, at least in theory, that if you do a good job taking care of the land and plants that they'll do a good job taking care of your animals. And I think that idea is maybe more mainstream than it was. So come back to the pasture calendar. What are some of the, you mentioned that trying to help counter overgrazing is one of the driving forces behind it. How does the calendar set up, and how does it go about teaching people how to avoid overgrazing?

>> Well, that's a great question. And that's, we spent a lot of time working and developing this to make that happen. So the pasture calendar really starts off by presenting some maps. And we're gonna have a map of essentially eastern Washington, all of Idaho, and eastern Oregon, because it is a PNW effort. And our project team of 20 scientists is all from land-grant universities at WSU, OSU, university of Idaho. And we also have NRCS specialist from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho as our team. So this allows us to work across the border, so to speak, and utilize everybody's resources. Well, the NRCS a number of years ago developed a resource called the MLRA, or major land resource area. And we've not used it very much in agronomy or other efforts. And we really should have. And I became aware of this through my NRCS folks on the west side. And that became our beginning point for our Westside Pasture Calendar. And we just transferred that same philosophy for our inland pasture calendar. So the region is set up in various MLRA's. And these are similar or dissimilar, based upon climate, elevation, length of the growing season, kinds of soils that we have, kinds of water resources that are there, the kinds of plants that are adapted to that. And a whole bunch of other things that are helping to describe where your farm or ranch really is. And believe it or not, we have a number of MLRAs in the three state region that are actually cross state borders, that from the outside you'd think, well, everything stops at the border. But no, mother nature doesn't work that way. And so we have some MLRA's. For example, I'll give you one, MLRA seven and eight is really the Columbia basin. We put MLRA together, because the one is at a lower elevation and one is at a higher elevation, but still it's within the Columbia basin environment. We also combined MLRA 43 and 44, which are mountain valleys. And that is a high, obviously, elevation. And we separated that into really high elevation and lower high elevation. That's what 43 and 44 separations are based. So, back to MLRA number seven and eight, that is found in both Washington and Oregon. The MLRA 43 and 44, which is our mountain valley ones, it's found in all three states. We also have some other crossovers that are in there. But there's only a few MLRA's in Oregon that are not shared with either Washington or Idaho. And these are actually shared with California and Nevada, which we in Washington do not have. So based upon these MLRA's, that's our foundation. And now we're going to start to divide the, what kind of plants do we have, and what kind of situation are we setting these up into. For example now, I already mentioned about early September is the beginning of our plant lifecycle in our pastures. And so the calendar actually begins the 1st of September. And so every MLRA where our calendar is going to begin on the 1st of September, and we go for about a two week period, and we're evaluating whether we're under a dry land or average management scenario, or we're under what we call optimal or irrigated management scenario. And every two weeks we describe ten growth processes of these perennial cool season grasses primarily. There could be some warm season, but primarily cool season grasses in our inland region. And those processes really start, number one is what we call semi-dormant, which usually starts in out let's say July and august, depending on where you're at. And our first growth period is really what we call 2a and 2b. And that's when we're going to see that brand-new white root, brand-new shoot, that brand-new apical meristem all being produced. And there's, depending on how fast they're produced and how cool or warm the soils are, how much moisture, or how lack of moisture we have, that will proceed either at a slower rate or a faster rate during that October, September October period. And then we just continue on, unlike the Westside Pasture Calendar, we really didn't have a distinct winter period on the west side, because we really don't. Things cool off by and large. They get extremely wet. On the inland region we have a very distinct winter period. And that's period number four. And we have, all of us experience snow, maybe not a lot, maybe a whole lot. We experience cold and freezing conditions, maybe for a long time, for months and months. Other times maybe for only a few weeks. Just depends upon the MLRA that we are dealing with. And so the pasture calendar, then, is set up to start with maps of the different states with MLRA's associated within the map. Then you go to the calendar itself, and you start to see the beginning of the calendar starting the 1st of September all the way through august 31. And then we superimpose the growth periods on top of those two situations that we have. So it really makes it a step-by-step process. It seems like it's intimidating to begin with, but honestly it's really pretty simple when you sit back and look at it.

>> Steve, you mentioned the pasture calendar is based on, I think you said ten growth processes that we could consider September as being the starting point. Can you walk through those ten growth processes for cool season grasses?

>> Mm hmm. Be happy to, Tip. And there are ten of them. We have a number of one through ten. And we have a couple of them that we actually have doubles on. And I'll hit those up real soon. These growth processes, or periods, we start with number one it's what call semi-dormancy. And this is a time when we're coming out of actually period number ten, which is full summer dormancy, or winter dormancy, but summer dormancy. And what happened is it's coming out, you're going to start to see a little bit of color transition of the plants. You will start to see a little bit of really slow growth that might start as the temperatures decline and the days are shortening. Then we get into period 2a and 2b. And now that we're into that fall period, this is went really when we're into September. Semi-dormancy is still probably in august. Now we're into September with the fall growth, regrowth period. This is when those new apical meristems that I mentioned were created and are being created. And you've got to see these brand-new green tillers coming out. You see the new white roots that are there. And you can still see a lot of brown leaves from the summer dormancy period, or semi-dormancy period. And so period 2a is the beginning of what we call our fall flush. Period two fall b now, this is still in that steady fall regrowth period. And what we're seeing here is the tillers are becoming very, very green at this point in time. The aboveground growth is really growing rapidly and flourishing. We could even be thinking seriously about going out there and grazing that at this point in time. And then, of course, we have the end of the fall flush coming up at the end of this period 2b. You're gonna have some brown leaf tissue, but it's gonna be a lot less than you had in fall, the fall regrowth period 2a. Now we go into what we called declining growth. This is going to be period 3a and 3b. Now what happens is temperatures are starting to cool even more. And what happens, then, our day lengths, like right now we're into very, very shortening days, and those tiller growth just continues to get slower and slower and slower. You can almost see it. A metaphor to use here is we may have still been having to mow our lawn twice a week during the periods 2a and 2b. Now we're down to maybe once a week in mowing our lawn in period 3a and 3b. And then we see there's one temperature that's really, really important for everyone to remember, and that's 41 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a soil temperature at 41 degrees Fahrenheit. And that's basically when we're gonna shut the season off. And the plants are really gonna stop growing at that point in time. Air temperature really doesn't matter, it's the soil temperature is the driving force throughout the calendar and throughout the growth of our of our pastures. So soil temperature at 41 degrees we're pretty much done for the season. And so that ends, then, our declining growth in various slow growth periods of 3a and 3b. Now we're into winter dormancy. Okay. So this is period four. Winter dormancy, of course, is exactly what it means. It's wintertime. It's cold. We may or may not have snow. We may or may not have some rain or ice at this point time. But this is also when the roots are shedding. Now, we just had this root regeneration period in periods 2a, 2b, and still in 3a and 3b. Now we're into root shedding in the winter dormancy period. What's that happen? They're no longer white. The roots are now are going to start to turn from white to, kind of, a cream color. Then they're going to start turning to a tan color. And then they're gonna start turning to a brown color. And winter, of course, is a long period of time, depending upon which MLRA you are in. In the Columbia basin we're in a relatively short winter dormancy period. You get into those high mountain elevation valley pastures, it's a pretty long winter dormancy period. And so it varies based upon what MLR you are in. But the winter is gonna be the same and very distinct for the various regions of NRPNW. Now, we're going to come through this winter period. And we're going to then have period 5a and 5b, which is when we're going to now surpass that soil temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. We went in to 41 degrees and lower, now we're coming out of 41 degrees and warmer. Ah, now the meristems that were created last September in period 2a and b are now gonna regenerate themselves. They're gonna regenerate brand-new white roots. Some of the shoots, or most of the shoots that were created in the fall are now gonna start to kick in and really start to grow. You may have some new growth coming off of those meristems. But largely what we created in the fall it's gonna be exploited and exploding during this period of time in 5a and 5b. Now the difference between here is going to be how rapidly do these shoots and roots grow. During 5a the growth is relatively slow. In 5b that growth is relatively much faster. And so we separated those two apart. Because this could be two weeks. It could be three weeks, four, five, six weeks, or maybe longer, depending on your MLRA, that that grass pasture is going to be in period five. Now we are starting to warm up, and we're going to go into period 6a and 6b. Now this is when we have a really rapid growth. We're creating our spring flush at this time. And everybody recognizes and understands what the spring flush looks like. The plants now are growing lots of leaves really, really fast. If you take a scenario of your lawn again, you may be back to mowing this lawn every other day during this big flush. And that's exactly what's going on in the pasture as well. It's really growing rapidly, those intercalary meristems on the leaf tissue are growing and expanding that leaf back out really fast. And so this is what the animals are going to consume. And so this is a reason part of the philosophy is let's eat, let's rotate, let's move, and then let it regrow and rest. And so then we've got that during the spring flush period. Quality is really, really good during that 6a period. But the quality starts to decline a little bit if we don't harvest or graze it during the 6b period, we're going to go down. Now we go into period seven. This is what we call slowing growth. Slowing growth is the top growth starts to slow down, and also the root growth is starting to slow down. But we're able to maintain the quality and productivity if we have been grazing and managing it well during the previous 5a, 5b, 6a, and 6b growth periods. So slowing growth is actually, kind of, a short cycle within the growth of the grasses. Now we are going to eight, that was seven, now we go into 8a and 8b. Now this is our steady growth. This is just before we're gonna get into the root shedding. And 6a is when we have this steady growth. And the top growth is still growing, but the roots are starting to shed. Then 6b is the top growth essentially really slows down, and the root shedding increases. So remember I mentioned about digging the plants there in the fall and in the wintertime, and looking at that root shedding? Guess what? You're going to see exactly the same thing happen right now here in late June and early July. We cannot stop it, but -- because this is all based upon now hot temperatures and really long day lengths, periods. The longest day lengths that we've got is also the major trigger of our root shedding in this period 6a, or, excuse me, 8a and 8b. Then we get into, like, say July and august we're into that slow growth period and number ten, that's nine, and number ten is our summer dormancy period. And in both cases, in the slow growth number nine and the summer dormancy number ten, we're into full root shedding. And there isn't a lot of growth occurring on top. And we used to think of this as, well, it doesn't really matter what you do out there, just turn them out, let them take it all off and so forth. You know what? That's exactly the wrong way to approach it. Because just think, what's coming up is gonna be number one, 2a and 2b. So this, our management right now during this slow growth in summer dormancy period when it looks like nothing is important, nothing is happening, it's just a bunch of junk that's left out there is not true. This is, the plants have their stored sugars in the stubble. There is a little bit in the roots, but the sugar is stored in that stubble area.

>> I wanted to ask what triggers the end of the summer dormancy? Because it seems like sometimes --

>> Uh huh.

>> -- I see plants break dormancy when there's not been any new moisture, like around the 1st of September, middle of September, you know, even on rangeland in, you know, bone dry situations where there is no soil moisture for two or three feet down and there's been no rain, I see plants initiate new growth, and you see brand-new shoots coming off of plant grounds that are just as dry as they can be. So what's triggering that to happen?

>> The, what, the two triggers that we have is the shortening day length and the cooling temperatures in the fall period. That's ending summer dormancy. That's what ends summer dormancy is when you start to see this shortening day length and cooling temperatures by the plants change into the semi-dormancy period number one, which precedes the period 2a and 2b where we have our rapid --

>> The fall growth?

>> -- fall growth.

>> Mm hmm.

>> Yeah. And so you're absolute correct, Tip. You don't need to have a drop of rain out there for that plant to create those new meristems and those new roots in that fall period. And it seems crazy, but if you have ever walked out there and observed your rangeland or your pastureland during that august and early September period, and you know that you've not gotten any rain, and maybe we don't get much showers at all in the fall period, if we think now, okay, in the spring we're still going to get a whole crop the seed heads, aren't we? Well, all those seed heads that we see in that spring flush in the spring all came from these new meristems that were being created right here in late august, September, and October. And honestly, the earlier the seed head is created or the apical meristem is created in the fall the earlier that seed head is actually going to be created in the spring, but it will also get longer. So our timothy, to give you a scenario, our timothy folks like really long seed heads when they harvest first cutting. To create a long seed head in timothy, we have to have that apical meristem created in early September versus late September. And that's the reason why second cutting timothy heads are always short, because they are created after or before first cutting, but they'll have a much shorter period of time in which to grow before they go into second or third cutting. So, the time is of the essence here. And so during that fall period that's reason the calendar, Tip, starts in September. Because that is the absolute most critical month of the year for our perennial cool season grasses.

>> I just want to have you restate that that growth is initiated, or is riding on, carbohydrates that are stored in the basal portion of the stem that's sitting there in august and September. So if you graze that stem too close it stents the fall regrowth, which then stents the next spring's growth.

>> There's no question about it. That's a thousand percent correct, Tip. That's exactly what happens. And so that goes back to the underlying philosophy of our pasture calendar is to avoid the overgrazing situation, overgrazing. And by understanding the growth pattern of the grasses in our pastures and our rangeland it really helps us take a hold of now we can actually manage this in a way that we can avoid overgrazing, that we can produce a livestock product that's we want, we can increase the soil organic matter like we want, we can prevent erosion like we want, and we can be economical like we want. It all fits together.

>> In both rangelands and pasture systems we talk about protecting the productive potential of that ecosystem to produce forage. But there's some other, you know, ecological goods and services that all kinda go together. And I think from what you're saying they're not antagonistic. For example, in other words it's not you get one or the other. One of them is carbon storage. I've done some literature of you on carbon storage in the last little while. And, you know, it's known that grassland ecosystems have maybe 85 percent of the carbon storage below ground. And it's quite stable, which is why they're important. In forested ecosystems a lot of that carbon is aboveground in the woody plant material. And as we've seen pretty dramatically this year, that's vulnerable to being released through wildfire. And while we can have severe wildfires on rangeland that's only removing ten or 15 percent of the carbon storage. But what I'm hearing also is that protecting those plants so that they are always sitting ready for maximum growth also protects some of these other ecosystem goods and services, like carbon storage, which are maybe increasingly important to society.

>> Absolutely true, Tip. And this is, we talk about this in respect to the growth patterns that we were just visiting about. You see that we have root shedding occurring during the winter time. We have root shedding occurring during the summer time. Which means, then, that we have root regeneration in the fall. And we have root regeneration in the spring. So twice a year we have roots shed, and twice a year we have roots generate. Now that root shedding processes what is going to create that soil organic matter, that soil organic carbon that is so vital to holding nutrients tight so they don't leach out, to holding water in that, then that area. To holding oxygen in that soil. Those are key components to promote root growth, plant growth, and also soil microorganism survival and growth. Which there's a whole new world out there that we have learned about. And so it comes back to those plants in being able to generate those roots, and those roots, then, creating this wonderful environment for many other organisms. And like you said, the goods and services that we, what we hope to gain from this. And that stubble, that three or four inches of stubble that's out there -- and depending on the species, it may be down to two inches for some plants. There, because there are differences, as you mentioned, about the sod formers versus the bunch grasses. That stubble for all of those plants does store a lot of sugar, most of the sugar. And in some of the sod former grasses they will store sugar in those rhizomes or stolons that are underground stems or aboveground stems. But the stubble for our bunch grasses is our key component of storing those sugars. And that sugar is the primer. That's gonna prime the new growth. And if we don't have enough sugar that new growth is delayed. And every time that we have another day of a delayed growth is just simply slows the entire growth pattern down. And ultimately, we don't be able to produce the kinds of forage dry matter, the forage quality that we are actually trying to achieve for our grazing animals, whether it be wildlife or domestic, it doesn't really matter. We're trying to create good, high quality forage for those animals. And they may not use it at that point in time. They may use it months later. But the quality is still gonna be relatively good for those animals to maintain themselves and to reproduce.

>> Thanks, Steve. For those listeners who have hung on this long, I asked you to do this interview because you've got a training coming up on this pasture calendar. Can you describe that training, and whether it's something that's open to anybody? Or is it directed toward a specific invitation-only audience?

>> Well, right now -- we received a grant from the western center, and to do this inland pasture calendar. And so what we are going to do is a series of webinar trainings in early November, November 3, 4, 5, and 6. And there will be, each will be a half day session. And this is in lieu of what we really wanted to do and what we planned to do, which was face-to-face all day training programs in which people would be invited to come at no cost. They could come to this training. And it would be very intensive. We would introduce a calendar and all kinds of associated information that supports what's going on inside the calendar. The virus has changed our plans. And so now we are into having to do this through the webinar series. And this is really is for extension faculty, NRCS field specialists, conservation district folks, crop and livestock producers, people from the state department of ag, FSA, those kind of ag professionals is our target audience. However, we are also interested in having some producers and landowners and livestock owners also participate in this. The beauty of what we're going to do is it's all going to be recorded. And this recording will be permanent. And people will then be able to have a copy of the calendar in front of them. They'll be able to look at the, or listen to the recording of these webinars. And they will then be able to utilize this calendar in the information within for their own farming operation. And so we think that this is gonna be a really helpful way of preserving what we did, through these educational webinar programs. So it works both ways, Tip. We're gonna have economics that's going to be part of this, the calendar, all these components that we've been talking about are all going to be part of this webinar series. Whether they see it live or they get to hear it after it's been recorded.

>> Sure. We will put in the show notes for this episode a link to the registration page for that conference. And I assume that people would also be able to find information there about the recordings after the fact. If not, then we can, we'll update that link later.

>> Yes.

>> Anything else people should know about the pasture calendar or the training?

>> Well, I think the bottom line that we are really trying to achieve here is to prevent overgrazing, and knowing and understanding that this has been a process, that people who have raised livestock have had to fight and overcome major difficulties. I want to give you a couple of really good examples. Back in 1877, excuse me, 1788, I got them backwards, 1788 the European's English sent shiploads of inmates to Australia. And in that what they called their first fleet they also -- because these people are going to have to eat once they get there, they sent a bunch of rabbits. And the rabbits were then designed to be used for human food. And they were all caged. And of course, as you know, things happen, and the rabbits got out. And everything was fine for a really long time. And all of a sudden, about a century later they passed a law that they could no longer kill the rabbits and eat them. And in one year they went from everything was fine to completely exploding in rabbits. And of course, then they had a tremendous amount of overgrazing from the rabbits. They had erosion from the rabbits. And when I was there I went to the international grassland congress 30 years ago, and they were still having issues with rabbits there. In the united states we also have had problems with rabbits. This time jackrabbits versus the European rabbits. We had jackrabbits. And during the 30s in Kansas they had what was called the jackrabbit drives. And my parents were old enough that they remember these jackrabbit drives. And they told us kids about these jackrabbit drives. And what they did is they had about 10,000 people would form two circles, if you will, around this area, which was about eight square miles. And so then they had these people continue to bring, get closer and closer and closer. And the goal was to get these rabbits into a 40 acre area. And they did. And the net result of this was estimated about 35,000 rabbits. And so that was one way to control a grazer from overgrazing, this case the jackrabbits. Also in Kansas, and they call it the grasshopper plague of 1874. And the sky turned black. It was blocked out from these swarms of grasshoppers. And they ate, according to the records, they ate the wool off the sheep, they ate the clothes off of the people. And of course, they ate all the crops. And the settlers at that time essentially raked piles and piles of grasshoppers and burned them to get rid of them. And even today, Tip, we still have overgrazing in some of our federal lands, BLM [phonetic] with the wild horses and burros that are there. And so our calendar is designed to help try to mitigate some of these overgrazing situations. Because at the end of the day when you have overgrazing not only the land resources are injured, and we increase soil erosion, and decrease soil organic matter, and we have increased runoff when we do get rain events. To the other extreme where the animals no longer are productive, no longer gaining weight but are losing weight. And you've seen those photos with the animal carcasses out there in the desert rangeland. And so we're trying to prevent both extremes, because neither one of them is very healthy, you know, in our modern day society. So that's the whole real idea behind the calendar, and why we are so fixated, I guess, on overgrazing.

>> Thanks, Steve. I'm looking forward to that. And I expect that this will be useful beyond the pacific northwest as well.

>> Thank you very much, Tip. We're hoping that -- and we've been told from our Westside Pasture Calendar that this will become the new standard throughout the united states. And one friend of mine said that this will become a new standard in the world of pasture management down the road. So, time will tell if that's true or not. We'll wait and see. But that's idea, is to try to prevent healthy pastures, which will provide healthy animals. And then we're gonna benefit as humans from all the animal products that are produced from this land.

>> Very good. Steve, thanks for joining me.

>> Thank you, Tip.

>> Thank you for listening to the art of range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes, or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for art of range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the college of agricultural, human, and natural resource sciences at Washington state university. The project is supported by the university of Arizona. And funded by the western center for risk management education through the USDA national institute of food and agriculture.

Mentioned Resources

Pasture calendar for Western Oregon and Washington:…ture-calendar


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