Just because the land doesn’t look salty, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
In fact, virtually all the land south of Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba is affected to some degree by salinity, and the total across the prairies amounts to some 10 million hectares.
One dead giveaway for salt is the presence of foxtail barley. As a hardy pioneer species, it is able to cover up salty areas and keep the problem from getting worse, however its prickly seed heads can cause problems by getting trapped in the lower jaws of ruminants.
In an evaluation of various salt-tolerant grass species in plots near Warner and Oyen, AB., researchers found that a green wheat grass species, AC Saltlander, worked well for covering up salt-affected areas and displacing weed species such as foxtail.
AC Saltlander, a natural hybrid between Eurasian bluebunch wheatgrasses and quackgrass, was developed by Harold Steppuhn at the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre (SPARC) at Swift Current, SK.
“Just because you can’t see the salts, doesn’t mean that they aren’t there or they’re not affecting your crop,” said Steppuhn, in a recent presentation at the Brandon Research Centre’s annual beef and pasture tour.
“We have far more acreage with unseen or hidden salinity. This is eating into your profit.”
Preliminary studies show that it can suppress foxtail barley at all salinity levels, and offers potential for low-cost, reduced pesticide control strategies. Miller Seeds is the cultivar licence holder, and Proven Seed is the distributor.
In the Alberta studies that began in 2006, the sites were treated with glyphosate, worked with a double-disc, roto-tilled, harrow packed and seeded.
Alan Iwaasa, who also works at AAFC Swift Current, said research shows that in terms of beef grazing productivity, AC Saltlander is as good or better than smooth brome, with rates of gain at around 2.2 pounds per day.
The difference, he added, is Saltlander’s ability to suppress foxtail.
“We didn’t see much difference in grazing preference between AC Saltlander and smooth brome,” said Iwaasa.
Stand longevity is not well researched. However, a stand at SPARC has held up for four years now with no added fertility. Seed cost is relatively high at about $6 per pound. Recommended seeding rate is eight pounds per acre.
Dry matter production measured around 2,500 to 3,000 kg per hectare. Saltlander can handle up to three weeks of standing water, but beyond that, its flood hardiness is unknown, said Steppuhn.
One concern about using AC Saltlander in Manitoba is the fact that it the seed is produced in an area of Alberta where downy brome, an invasive species, is present.
Steppuhn is well aware of this, and when asked about what to do if downy brome shows up in the crop, he advised producers to simply seed more Saltlander.
“It suppresses downy brome,” said Steppuhn. “But if you don’t want to buy it, that’s fine. The seed is going south because the U. S is grabbing this thing.” [email protected]
“Just because you can’t see the salts, doesn’t mean that they aren’t there or they’re not affecting your crop.”
– HAROLD STEPPUHN