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RALEIGH, N.C. (Sept. 25) – This summer’s record-breaking drought has been tough on cool season grasses and the farmers that grow them, but other options exist when it comes to livestock forage.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is promoting its Cooperative Upland habitat Restoration and Enhancement program (CURE) as a win-win for private farmers. CURE promotes the creation of small game habitat in three focal areas across the state, using native plants such as drought-resistant, warm season grasses in areas like the western Piedmont.

“This is not a short-term method, this is a long-term approach,” said CURE Technical Assistance Biologist Johnny Riley of warm season grasses, which can take two years to begin producing mature yields. “But if farmers will buy into the warm season grasses, the results could be tremendous and really help areas like the western Piedmont in future droughts. They’re also a great way to diversify forage and get away from having 100 percent cool season grasses.”

Unlike cool season forage species, such as fescue and orchard grass, warm season varieties thrive during the hottest months of the year. Even better, they do not require substantial summer rainfall to produce significant tonnage; although, with good precipitation, species like big bluestem, switchgrass and eastern gammagrass can produce impressive results with higher quality than most cool season grasses.

Iredell County farmer Jerry Lundy got more than three tons of forage per acre on the first cutting in 2006. A participant of CURE since 2002, Lundy said he has but one regret about the 20 acres of warm season grasses scattered across his property.

“If I had it to do over again, I’d plant more,” he explained.

While farmers can use warm season grasses to feed livestock, wildlife will also benefit from the cover. Rabbits, grouse, quail, deer, turkey and songbirds use warm season grasses to different extents. Commission biologists encourage CURE participants to leave these grasses uncut during the late summer, providing valuable early successional habitat – or young, burgeoning wild areas – for wildlife during the winter months. Helping farmers understand how to incorporate small game habitat into their normal farming activities is a major focus of the program.

In 1999, the Commission introduced CURE as a new strategy to create enough habitat in selected areas to have a measurable impact on local wildlife populations. Through the CURE program, the Commission works with local landowners in three distinct areas of the state where the best opportunity to create small game habitat exists. Often there is little or no cost to them and at times, as is the case with the native grasses, there is a possible economic benefit.

Technical assistance is not restricted to CURE areas. Commission biologists are also available for advice throughout the state and in many cases Federal Farm Bill programs are offered to supplement costs of establishing grasses and other wildlife habitat.

In addition to the Piedmont focal area, CURE cooperatives are located in the northern and southern Coastal Plains. To learn more about CURE, or the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, visit www.ncwildlife.org.
 
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