At the bottom of a 6-foot soil pit in fertile Crete silt loam soil, Star Seed sales representative Dale Strickler could still see the roots of the gamagrass he seeded his pasture with in 2006. The pit was the first stop on a Fall Grazier's Tour at Strickler's farm just south of Courtland in north central Kansas. From 2000, when he bought the farm, up until 2006, it was in corn and soybeans, and the roots couldn't get past the two-foot layer of topsoil.
Planting gamagrass allowed Strickler to break through the clay layer, which normally limits oxygen. He notes the bottom of the pit has a reddish color, meaning oxygen is now available. This is thanks to gamagrass's deep, extensive root system, which contains aerenchyma tissue. "It's the inner part of the root, it has big cavities in it that enable air to move down the center of the root to supply oxygen to those roots," Strickler says. "It's a real simple mechanism, kind of like a snorkel."
Grazing annuals and perennials
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Strickler, who has been rotational grazing since 2007, grazes 136 acres of perennials, like gamagrass, in addition to annuals. This gives him the benefits of both. "Perennials are better for improving the soil than annuals," he notes. "The problem with an entire perennial system is that all perennials produce twice as much in the first half of the season as the second half of the season. That's why I still have annual pastures. They are very valuable for balancing out that feed supply."