Legumes for sustainable natural resource management: Forages, Rangeland, Grassland Restoration, & Bioenergy Systems
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Legumes have always been important components of agricultural systems where their contributions are myriad. They providehumans food (pulses and vegetables), forage for ruminants, ecosystem plant diversity, fuels (wood or cellulosic bioenergy),cover crops, green manure, and many other essential services. Cultivated forages and rangelands are important components ofagricultural production in north-central Texas and similar low-rainfall regions of the southeastern USA. Forages are utilized fortraditional animal husbandry such as wildlife, cattle production, small ruminant feed, dairy silage, or commercialization of hayand silage. In operations catering to urban centers, the uses are less traditional, including natural ecosystems restoration, wildlife habitat and feed and even ornamental gardening. Forage species are also used to address environmental concerns such as soil bioremediation, soil conservation, green manures, renewable biofuels and landscape restoration. Current growth areas for legumes in north-central Texas include low-input forage systems, soil conservation, right-of-way restoration, ruminant nutrition and health, locally grown dairy forage, and wildlife. In addition, growth potential exists for expanded use of cultivated forages in biomass (bioenergy) as well as soil conservation and phytoremediation (riparian buffers and fallow cropland). The inexorable attrition of row-cropping in the Cross Timbers, caused by soil exhaustion and inappropriate climate, may also contribute to increased pasture and forage acreage in the near future. As the cost of nitrogen fertilizer and fuels continue to rise, the use of legumes as self-regenerating, inexpensive sources of nitrogen in crop rotations and as green manures becomes more attractive. This research program at Stephenville will focus on the multiple uses of herbaceous, brushy and arboreal legumes through a diverse program. The common thread will be increased inclusion of legumes. Legumes make ecological and environmental sense for pasture, rangeland or roadside revegetation, soil conservation, ruminant nutrition, or natural ecosystems regeneration in north-central Texas. This is not an easy prospect in a culture that is not accustomed to managing for legumes and in a climate that has both hot dry summer conditions and freezing winters. Land managers, even when they care, are not always sure which introduced or native species to plant and how to manage those pastures and rangelands. Identifying adapted species for multiple uses, whether native, naturalized or introduced germplasm, and understanding the physiological adaptations that will enhance their success in production systems is imperative to their increased use, these tasks are not easy when grasses are far more aggressive and persistent than legumes. The introduction of legumes from similar climatic regions of the world will focus on adaptability to local climate, edaphic conditions, pests/diseases, and production systems. These include mostly annual cool-season legumes and warm-season legumes, including natives. Knowledge arising from the Stephenville research program will provide north-central Texas and similar regions around the globe with as many answers to these questions as possible.