Grassland Soil Health Champions

Rex and Amy

Rex and Amy Hamilton have a unique life.  They live in the Ozark Hills where they do what most of their neighbors do, raise cows.  However they do something almost no one else in Missouri does, harvest, clean and sell native grass and wildflower seed.  This story begins many years ago...  Rex and Amy spent hour after hour on the remaining native grasslands in the state harvesting seed and observing plants.   At home, they rotationally grazed the cowherd on fescue and warm season grass pastures.  And so, life went on like this.  But thirty years later the soil health story begins on a pasture walk on a neighboring dairy farm where it was mentioned that plant diversity is important to soil health.  It was a hot, dry June and the fine-leaved fescue was not growing.  Crabgrass, with its shallow roots, needed rain to begin growing, and rain was not in the forecast.  The toe jerks (a hillbilly name for buckhorn plantain) could be good quality forage, but they were growing slowly too.  The light came on!  All of these plants were relatively shallow rooted; however deep rooted warm season native grasses like Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, and Eastern Gamagrass were growing well thru the dry period. Their deep roots were finding water that was stored in the soil.  At the same time, Rex and Amy knew that the shallower rooted plants are important because of their ability to respond quickly to a rain.  Diversity, they saw, was the key to this.  And, boy did they know what diversity was from their days spent harvesting seed on Missouri’s native grasslands.  Native grasslands have 200-300 species of plants in a hundred acres or so (as many as 20-30 species in an area about 4 times as big as this piece of paper)!  Now, that is diversity!  Why, Rex & Amy asked, is no one planting and grazing native diversity?   So, the project was started; a 60 acre pasture was converted to a diverse native grassland.  

This story continues because the diverse native grassland is improving soil health.  Rex and Amy have been named to the Soil Health Champion Network of the National Association of Conservation Districts.  They are enjoying observing the diverse native grassland, learning about soil health, and watching the sun rise over the Ozark hills with a hot cup of coffee.  If you haven’t been following this project, read about about some of our observations in the article Land that Drinks in the Rain and stay tuned for more articles in the future. 

Also, come see the grassland at our field days:
 Diversity & Warm Season Grass Pasture Walk: June 20th

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