Strip-seeding to help ranchers

While walking to the overlook at Rush Ranch, it’s impossible to miss the seven acres of tall grass mowed in thick strips like crop circles pulled straight.

It’s not the work of aliens, but a U.C. Davis strip-seeding demonstration project designed to benefit ranchers and the environment. It is also an example of the important role that Rush Ranch plays in the conservation community. “Rush Ranch is a hub where science meets ranchers,” says Pelayo Alvarez with the Carbon Cycle Institute.

Based on the successful practice of strip-seeding by wheat farmers in the Midwest, professor Emilio Laca at UC Davis began in 2007 to apply the practice of strip-seeding to native grassland restoration in test plots on campus. The idea is to cut down the cost of planting native grasses, which improve soil health and carbon sequestration, are better for wildlife, and provide a longer foraging season for grazers.

Native grasslands once covered California hills, but have been reduced by 99% over the last two centuries. Native grassland restoration is expensive, and strip-seeding should make it more cost effective. Instead of broadcasting seeds across an area, strip seeding applies seeds in wide strips. It is expected that the seeded area will eventually seed the non-seeded strips of soil.

Go Rush Ranch!

The test plots at UC Davis looked good to Laca, but the technique needed to be tested in a working landscape. Rush Ranch is one of three demonstration sites. The others are Sonoma Land Trust’s Sears Point and TomKat Ranch on the San Mateo Coast. The sites were prepared in 2016 and seeded in the fall of 2017. The results at Rush Ranch have exceeded expectations. “Rush Ranch has been successful in ways I didn’t expect during initial establishment,” says Philip Brownsey, the rangeland ecologist who implemented the project.

Ranchers can’t often afford to take the risk of testing a new technique like this. This demonstration project, funded by the Coastal Conservancy, is testing the technique for them. The site will be monitored for one more year by UC Davis.

“Kudos to Solano Land Trust and the board for their willingness to engage in partnerships that benefit ranchers,” says Alvarez. “The way we keep ranchers around is to provide more tools for them to succeed.”

Balancing hiking trails, wildlife habitat and grazing can be a challenge, but with your support, land trust properties can serve as testing grounds for research, like this project, that benefits people and the environment.  If strip-seeding takes off as a strategy that is economically viable to ranchers and private landowners, the impacts will be vastly greater than what could be accomplished on protected property, alone. (Photos and text by Aleta George, June 2018.)