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NMSU researchers study kochia as forage option for rangeland

ABIQUIU – As weather patterns change causing drier conditions, rangelands and pastures may be in need of revegetation. Meanwhile, livestock producers are looking for ways to provide nutritional forage for their animals.


Close up of green plant
Forage kochia is showing promise for improving rangeland in areas in the western United States. The plant will be among the topics at a workshop on improving rangeland and pasture forage Thursday, April 4, in Abiquiu. (Courtesy photo)
Field of green plants
New Mexico State University researchers are investigating the use of forage kochia to revegetate rangelands. Forage kochia, a perennial plant, is different from the annual kochia weed that is prominent in the region. NMSU will host a workshop at the Rio Arriba County Extension office Thursday, April 4, in Abiquiu. (Courtesy photo)

To meet both needs, New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences researchers are searching for forage plants that will adapt to the changing weather patterns.

One plant showing promise for improving rangeland in other parts of the western United States is forage kochia (Kochia prostrata). Forage kochia is a perennial plant and is different from the annual kochia (Kochia scoparia) weed that is prominent in the region.

“Range Changer is an independent seed dealer that has worked with Utah State University to plant thousands of acres of forage kochia in similar elevations and terrain as Northern New Mexico,” said Donald Martinez, NMSU Extension agricultural agent in Rio Arriba County. “When I saw the success of this forage, I thought this is something we need to introduce into New Mexico.”

Mark Marsalis, NMSU Extension forage specialist, and Martinez are conducting test plots of forage kochia on cooperators’ land in northern New Mexico.

“We are trying to find a forage that can adapt to our environment to improve our grazing,” Martinez said. “We are looking for an alternative forage for our livestock and wildlife.”

Last year the researchers selected six locations that have different soil types and are at different elevations – between 5,000 and 9,000 feet – to see whether forage kochia would grow.

“Unfortunately, last year was the driest on record,” Martinez said. “Only one plot had moisture, so it was the only one that showed some growth.”

Before the researchers could evaluate the plants, a herd of elk devoured the forage.

“So we know the high protein forage is palatable to wildlife,” Martinez said. “We just hope the elk didn’t uproot all of the plants. We’ll have to see what returns this spring.”

Shane Getz of Range Changer Seed has told Martinez that with moisture this winter, the plant should grow in all six plots this year.

One positive aspect of this forage is little or no soil preparation is needed before planting the seeds.

“What’s intriguing is that you don’t have to till the soil before planting,” Martinez said. “You just broadcast the seed on top of the ground and it has a high germination rate. This allows us to not disturb the natural grasses, which will help prevent soil erosion by the wind.”

Martinez is hosting a free workshop from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at the Rio Arriba County rural event center on State Highway 554 in Abiquiu for ranchers to learn more about forage kochia and other grasses for range and irrigated lands.

A light lunch will be provided. Participants are asked to RSVP by calling 505-685-4523 or email donmart@nmsu.edu before March 30.

Getz and Keven Jensen, range specialist in Utah with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, will present information about the forage, including the best time to plant and how to plant the seed.

Marsalis will make a presentation about irrigated pasture and hay management on the small farms in northern New Mexico.

“This workshop will be good for those looking to improve their irrigated lands as well,” Marsalis said. “We’ll touch on species selection, fertilization, reseeding and general crop improvement.”

“It’s going to be good to hear from these guys who are actually out there working to improve rangeland and also our irrigated forage systems as our climate is changing,” Martinez said.