MP-425 MARCH 1960
Costs of Root Plowing and Seeding Rangeland, o Rio Grande Plain
. T.+FH j 7 ..-,J 'E "
Map of Texas showing the Rio Grande Plain and the four counties in which this study
TEXAS AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION
R. D. LEWIS, DIRECTOR, COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS
Invasion of woody plant species on the Rio ment, resulted in a cost of $18.63 per acre. This Grande Plain of Texas has so decreased forage figure does not include additional costs of fencing, production that many ranchmen have bought addi- water facilities, grubbing and weed control, which tional rangeland or have invested in range improve- may or may not be necessary. Cost-sharing assistment to maintain or increase family income. ance through the agricultural conservation program
of up to 50 percent of the cost of treatment was
Rootplowing and seeding in the same operation obtained by many of the ranchmen interviewed. with the introduced species blue panic and buffel
grasses have, in many instances, produced phe- Benefits received from this method of range
nomenal results in brush kill, especially mesquite, improvement vary and many cannot be measured and in successful grass stands. at this time. Increases in livestock carrying capacity and in calf weights, fewer insects and reduced
On the basis of personal interviews with 29 handling costs were reported. ranchmon in McMullen, LaSalle, Frio and Medina
counties, and additional information from the Soil Numerous management problems confront the Conservation Service, Agricultural Stabilization and ra~nchman because of the nature of the introduced Conservation offices and other sources, a determina- grass species and the often limited acreages on tion of treatment cost was made, which they occur. Indications are that the areas
rootplowed and seeded successfully can be handled
Ranches in the study ranged from 163 to more best as temporary pastures in a manner similar to than 18,000 acres, and averaged 2,010 acres. Total Sudangrass. area rootplowed and seeded per ranch ranged from
10 to almost 1,200 acres, with an average of 241
acres. Up to 40 percent of the total acreage was
treated on the smaller ranches; 3 to 5 percent of the
total acreage was treated on the larger ranches. CONTENTS
A common sequence of operation was first to Summary................................... 2
chain the brush, then rootplow and seed, and defer Introduction................................. 3
grazing on the treatment area. In most instances, Puroe....................3
these operations were contracted by local equip- roe.................
mont operators. Chaining for the most part had Method of Study............... ............. 3
been done in previous years. The most frequent Rootplowing and Seeding ............3
contract prices quoted were $3 per acre for chain- Chaining ....................4
ing, and $10 per acre for rootplowing and seeding.
One dollar per acre was the assigned cost for non- Rootraking and Seeding .............5
use of the land for I year. In cases of failures to Additional Costs............................. 5
obtain adequate grass stands, retreatment by use Weed Control............................ 5
of a rootrake and attached grass seeder is becoming Deferment ..................5
widespread. A common contract price for this oper- Fencing and Water Development .......6 ation was $6 per acre plus an assigned cost of $1
per acre for an additional year's deferment. Other Costs .................6
Risk Factor.................................. 6
Of 490 contract operations observed during Cost of Treatment........... ................ 7
1953-58 by range technicians of the Soil Conservation Service on the six major range sites in the area, Cost-Sharing Assistance ...................... 8
166 grass stands resulted. This made an average Returns from Treatment ...................... 8
success of 33.9 percent, or a failure of 66.1 percent. Management Problems ....................... 8
Using the 66.1 percent failure as a risk factor, the
determination was made that treatment, including Acknowledgments............................ 8
chaining, rootplowing and seeding, and range defer- References ...................8
Costs of Rootplowing and Seeding Rangeland,
Rio Grande Plain
Calvin C. Boykin, Jr.
W ITHIN THE RIO GRANDE PLAIN OF TEXAS more than 1950's were selected for interview from a list of 84
15,000,000 acres of rangeland have been invaded provided by research personnel of the Department by brush species to the extent that once abundant of Wildlife Management. This constituted a 34 pergrass stands have been diminished significantly. cent sub-sample from their study. Their list had been Common high-forage-producing grass species which developed from Soil Conservation Service records for
have decreased in this change of plant composition a study of the effects of brush control on vegetative
are bluestems, plains bristlegrass, sideoats grama and composition and on wildlife populations. The sample two and four-flowered trichloris. of 84 was selected to represent proportionately the
various sizes of ownerships and their incidence in
With this change in plant composition, livestock temjrtpso eeain
carrying capacities have been reduced greatly and
ranchmen have been forced to buy additional land By selecting for interview only those ranchmen
or to improve the land they now have to maintain who had rootplowed and seeded prior to 1959 and
or improve family income. Most of their efforts have especially in the early 1950's, data were obtained conbeen devoted to various means of brush control. Both cerning projects where sufficient time had elapsed to chemical and mechanical means have been used on enable an evaluation of results with greater accuracy.
prevalent brush species such as mesquite, whitebrush, The 29 ranchmen in the area supplied informaacacia, cacti, spiny hackberry and others. tion by personal interview on methods of treatment,
Within the past few years, a method of root- costs, apparent results of treatment and special manplowing and seeding in the same operation has come agement problems encountered.
into rather wide use. Phenomenal results in terms of Additional information about methods, extent
brush kill and increases in forage production have and apparent success of treatment was obtained from
been obtained in many instances with the use of work unit conservationists and range specialists with
introduced grasses such as blue panic, buffel and the Soil Conservation Service, the local Agricultural
other grasses. Stabilization and Conservation office managers, county
agricultural agents, contractors and machinery comPURPOSE pany representatives.
Since rootplowing and seeding as a means of The size of ranches in the sample on which
improving range conditions has drawn the attention rootplowing and seeding were done ranged from 163
of ranchmen in other areas of the State infested with to more than 18,000 acres, and averaged 2,010 acres. brush, the purpose of the study reported here was Total acres treated per ranch ranged from 10 to almost
to determine the costs of these operations, including 1,200, with an average of 241 acres. On the average, the costs of additional treatments needed to insure 12 percent of the acreage was treated. Some of the the desired results. smaller ranches had almost 40 percent of the total
acreage treated, while on some of the larger ranches,
METHOD OF STUDY only 3 to 5 percent of the total acreage was treated.
McMullen, LaSalle and Frio counties, on the Nearly all of the ranches were owner-operated
Rio Grande Plain, plus the portion of Medina county with a cow-calf system of livestock management. on the Rio Grande Plain, were selected for study.
This is an area in which rootplowing and seeding ROOTPLOWING AND SEEDING
have been carried on for some time.
A rootplow is a horizontal V-type blade with
Twenty-nine ranchmen who had rootplowed and attached fins mounted on or pulled by a large crawlerseeded a portion of their rangeland since the early type tractor, Figure 1. The blade cuts a 12-foot swath 10 to 20 inches below the surface of the soil. The
*Formerly assistant professor, Department of Agricultural Eco- addition of fins to the blade assists in severing or nomics and Sociology, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, heaving roots and root crowns of brush species to the
-,currently agricultural economist, Farm Economics Research
Division, Agricultural Research Service, U. S. Department of surface. When brush roots are cut this way, many Agriculture, New Mexico State University. of the plants die. Chances for a large percentage kill
TABLE 1. TIMES OVER, RATES OF APPLICATION AND grasses were used in a few instances, and sorghum
CONTRACT PRICES OF ROOTPLOWING AND SEEDING almum was used by three ranchmen on abandoned
AND ASSOCIATED TREATMENTS cropland.
Times Acres Cost Most of the rootplowing and seeding on ranches
Treatment per 10-hour per
day acre, $ in the sample was clone under contract by local equipChaining (one direction) 1 200 2- 3 ment operators. Cost per acre ranged from $8 to $12
Chaining (two directions) 2 150 3- 4 including the cost of seed, Table 1. The most comRootplowing and seeding 1 15 20 8-12 mon contract price reported by the 29 ranchmen interRootraking and seeding 1 40-50 5- 7 viewed was $10 an acre. The time required and resultChemical weed control 1 2- 4 ing costs varied according to the range site treated,
density and types of brush present, acreage in the
treatment area and the distance the machinery had
are increased if the soil is mry at the time of treat- to be moved for use. Fifteen to 20 acres per 10-hour meant and remains dry for some time afterwards. day were common treatment rates. While dates of
Brush kills up to 90 percent were reported by the treatment ranged from early spring to late summer,
ranchmen interviewed. While rootplowing without March to May is the period generally recommended
seeding was (lone in many instances a few years ago, to obtain the best results from reseeding. most of the work clone since 1953 by those interviewed
has included reseeding at the time of rootplowing. CHAINING
Seeder boxes are mounted on the rootplow, and While rootplowing and seeding frequently are the
the seed are broadcast by the tractor exhaust far only treatment performed, the contractors interviewed
enough back to prevent them from falling into deep indicated chaining is required sometimes for efficient
cracks opened by the blade as it is pulled through the
soil. Blue panicgrass and buffelgrass, both introduced, especially true on bottorland and on some hardland tall-growing, bunch-type summer grasses, have been sites where tree-type brush, principally mesquite, is
used separately and in mixtures in most of the opera- sotes whr nrete rush in esqite, is
a sedig rte f aproimaely common. Among the ranchmen interviewed, more tions to (late. Usually a seeding rate of approximately than half reported that the land which was root2 pounds per acre of each grass, either separately or plowed and seeded had been chained several years in a mixture, was used. Cost of seed varied from
$.60 to $1.25 per pound for blue panic seed and from previously. $.75 to $2.00 for buffelgrass seed. Two of the ranch- Chaining involves the use of a large anchor chain
men in the sample used home-grown seed. Native dragged over the area by two large crawler-type
Figure 1. Crawler-type tractor equipped with rootplow and dozer blade rootplowing thick mesquite and brushland.
Photo courtesy of the Soil Conservation Service.
Figure 2. Rootrake with attached seeder, pulled by a crawler type tractor. Photo courtesy of the Soil Conservation
tractors traveling parallel. Each end of the chain is that 10 to 50 acres could be rootraked and seeded in attached to a tractor. The chain as it is dragged over a 10-hour d(lay, Table 1. Reported contract prices the area uproots or breaks the large brush. Frequently were $5 to $7 an acre including the cost of seed. brush-infested areas are chained in two directions to
pull out trees which are only partially uprooted from ADDITIONAL COSTS
Rates of chaining in a 10-hour day varied from Weed Control
150 acres for chaining in two directions, to 200 acres D)epending on climatic conditions, some degree for chaining in one direction, Table 1. Reported of weed control is often needed to keep down conmcontract prices were $2 to $3 an acre. petition with grass seedings. This may be done more
readily by spraying with air or ground equipment
ROOTRAKING AND SEEDING rather than by mowing. It is difficult to mow weeds
since the ground is roughed up by the rootplow.
Not all rootplowing and seeding treatments have an en in the sample reported that several
resulted in grass stands, according to Soil Conservation tan ap l ere tt svr
Service technicians. When failures occur, the question successful grass stands apparently were lost because Service technicians. WVhen failures occur, the question of heavy competition from weeds. Many earlier treatof retreatment arises if grass stands are to be estab- of heavy competition from weeds. Many earlier treatlished. A method of rootraking following rootplow- ments during the drouth period on which sufficient ing or bulldozing on brush is commonly used when moisture fell to bring up the seed, but not enough
putting raw land into cultivation. By attaching a moisture to bring on much weed competition, were
grass seeder to the rootrake, a method of retreatment successful. of many of these failures has been devised. Several Only three of the ranchmen interviewed said
ranchmen in the sample tried and generally recom- that they had actually practiced weed control. Others
mended that this method be used to salvage earlier stated that additional control must be carried out failures. The rootrake pulls out much of the remain- in the future if successful grass stands are to be ing stumps and branches, stacks them and smooths obtained. Cost estimates for weed spraying were $2
over the roughed-up surface left by the rootplow. A to S4 an acre. finer seedbed results, chances of seed germination are
increased and the greater expense of retreatment with Deferment the heavier rootplow is partially eliminated. Deferment of grazing on the treated area for at
The rootrake is approximately 20 feet wide, has least 1 year and sometimes 2 has long been advocated variably spaced teeth and is pulled by a large crawler- by range technicians and others to increase the chances type tractor. It was reported by those interviewed of obtaining adequate stands of grass. More than
TABLE 2. NUMBER OF CONTRACT OPERATIONS, NUMBER Other Costs
AND PERCENTAGE OF GRASS STANDS OBTAINED BY
RANGE SITES, HONDO (1955-58), PEARSALL (1955-58), Other practices of minor importance among the
TILDEN (1957-58) AND COTULLA (1953-58) WORK UNITS ranchmen interviewed were: burning-brush, costing
OF THE SOIL CONSERVATION SERVICE around $2 an acre; grubbing white-brush and brush
Number Number Percent- sprouts, around $5 an acre; and raking and piling
Range site of Acres of age of brush, approximately $6 an acre. These treatments
contract treated grass grass
operations stands1 stands increase the percentage of brush kill, but are expensive because of the hand labor required. Many of
Hardland 230 37,152 75 32.6 the ranchmen felt that with progress in the use of
Sandy loam 190 30.298 53 27.9 chemicals, spraying over rootplowed and seeded areas
Gravelly ridge 12 1,457 6 50.0 after resprouting will become a cheaper method. This
Bottomland 38 3,258 25 65.8 is the case especially with mesquite sprouts and whiteShallow upland 19 1,453 7 36.8
Deep Sand 1 320 0 0.0 brush.
Total 490 76,818 166 RISK FACTOR
Average percent success 33.9
Average percent failure (risk factor) 66.1 The possibility of failure becomes an important
Total 100.0 factor when a sizable investment is made in range
improvement by rootplowing and seeding. In this
'A grass stand is an area on which sufficient seeded species particular practice, there have been spectacular suchave been established and constitute a major percentage
of the plant composition. cesses and sometimes failures. During the drouth,
when rootplowing and seeding were first used on a
large scale, the ranchmen reported high percentage
half of the ranchmen contacted reported that they brush kills and excellent stands of blue panicgrass,
had deferred grazing for periods ranging from a few buffelgrass, or mixtures of the two grasses. Later,
months to 1 year. Only two reported deferment for when moisture became more plentiful, fewer suca period longer than 1 year. This period of non-use cessful stands of grass resulted, although brush kills
represents an immediate cost to the ranchman since continued to be adequate. Several good stands of
he foregoes the opportunity to add to his income by grass, especially buffelgrass, were winter-killed, and in
grazing the range during this time. Therefore, a cost some areas rats were so prevalent that grass stands which may be approximately the lease value of the were virtually wiped out.
land for the period is included. If the ranchman pays In many instances, native grass species were com$1.00 an acre lease, or if he owns the land and could in an insta es, i grs s peciwr o
lease it out for $1.00 an acre, this charge enters into iany ranchmen and range technicians, range condithe cost of treatment. If deferment is carried out for mt
2 years, then the cost is $2.00. tions would continue to improve with conservative
stocking and provision for some deferment.
Fencing and Water Development Among the ranchmen interviewed, there was a
Another item which may vary considerably is commonly held opinion, on past experience, that the
the cost of additional fencing and water development. seeded grasses had a 50-50 chance of germinating and Deferment is cited by range technicians as being a surviving. In an attempt to determine more accuprerequisite for successful establishment of a grass rately what these chances might be, a record of treatstand, and livestock must be fenced away from the ments, acreages, successes and failures was obtained
treated area for the desired results. With the addition from the Soil Conservation Service work unit offices, of a fence, livestock may be cut off from previously and from the range specialist in the study area, developed water facilities. This creates the need for Table 2. a new water well, stock pond or pipeline and trough. While the observations were not complete, suffiSeveral of the ranchmen interviewed treated cient evidence was available to assign a risk factor to
whole pastures at one time, or at least treated a guide ranchmen in their figuring of possible costs and
sufficient area in a pasture that they felt the need assist them in their decision of whether to invest in to preclude the use of the entire pasture for some rootplowing and seeding.
time. Ten of the ranchmen said they had constructed
additional fence. Three reported that they used a The number of treatments, acres treated and
temporary electric fence. Most of those who fenced number of resulting stands of grass were recorded by
had to build or renovate a stock pond or develop the principal range sites in the area during 1953-58
other means of supplying water to livestock. Cost of for the Cotulla work unit, 1957-58 for the Tilden fencing varied considerably; $50 to $90 a mile for work unit and 1955-58 for the Hondo and Pearsall
electric fences, and $225 to $500 a mile for barbed work units. These work units service the Medina
wire fences, depending on the cost of labor. Valley, Frio and Dos Rios Soil Conservation Districts.
The criterion for evaluating the results of root- be favorable. If the seeding fails, which may happen, plowing and seeding, as used by the range technicians, Table 2, then it often is necessary to rootrake and was that any area needing another seeding to obtain seed. It may be necessary to do this 66.1 percent of an adequate stand of blue panic or buffelgrass was the time. declared a failure. An adequate stand for these evalu- Thus in assigning a cost for rootraking and seedations constituted areas with sufficient seeded species in assary a enter only and seedestablished so that they made up a major percentage ing, it is necessary to enter only $6.00 x .661, which of the plant composition. Reasons given for lack of equals $3.97 an acre. The same holds true for the adequate stands were: long wet winters in 1957-58, deferment cost. In this instance it would be $1.00 x
heavy weed infestations, failure to defer treated areas .661, which equals $.66 an acre. Added to the $1.00 and rat damage. cost already incurred, the total cost for deferment
would be $1.66. The assumption is made here that
The largest percentage of grass stands was ob- the rootraking and seeding will result in an adequate gained on the bottomland sites, with 65.8 percent. stand of grass. While chances for obtaining an adeFifty percent success was recorded on the gravelly quate stand of grass are increased considerably, failridge sites, 32.6 percent success on the hardland sites ures may be expected. There were insufficient trials and 36.8 percent on the shallow upland sites. The to assign a risk factor to this treatment.
sandy loam sites were next with 27.9 percent success, Cost of the first treatment including chaining is
and the one trial on the deep sand site was unsuc- $14. Cost of the second or follow-up treatment, which
cessful. Overall success, or the attainment of adequate includes only rootraking and seeding and deferment, grass stand treatments under observation, was 33.9 incls onl ttootra ten seed d defe
percent, or 66.1 percent failure. This failure figure equals 7. The latter treatment is needed .661 of the of .661 represents the risk factor used in the determi- time, thus making an expected cost of $4.63. The nation of osets total cost with .661 failure is estimated to be $18.63
an acre. With a follow-up treatment needed 100 percent of the time, the total cost is estimated to be $21.
COST OF TREATMENT These costs assume that the treatments would be a
A common sequence of operations, Table 3, used series made on approximately the same range sites
in rootplowing and seeding was to chain, rootplow and over a period of time with soil and moisture
and seed, and defer use. Chaining in most instances conditions similar to those during the period under was done several years prior to rootplowing and seed- study. ing. The total per-acre cost of treatment usually was Another method to state these costs is to say that
$3 for chaining, $10 for rootplowing and seeding and the ranchman knows he will have a cost of $14 as $1.00 for a 1-year deferment.
$a minimum. Given this cost, he stands to pay an
If, after a lapse of time varying from a few months additional $7 with a probability of .661, or he has to a year or more, it was determined that the seeding a probability of no additional cost of .339. Thus, he was a failure, then rootraking and seeding may be has the probability of paying $14 approximately .339
used and followed by another period of deferment, of the time, and a probability of paying $21 approxiThis secondary treatment was reported commonly to mately .661 of the time. When chaining is not recost $6 per acre and $1.00 for another year of defer- quired, the cost could be reduced by $3 per acre. ment. When extra fencing and water facilities are needed,
Since the future results to be expected are un- these costs should be added. Similarly, such further known, one can estimate results only from past experi- expenses as grubbing, spraying weeds and other associences. It is practically assured that the brush kill will ated costs should be added.
TABLE 3. COMMON SEQUENCE OF TREATMENTS, COST OF FIRST AND FOLLOW-UP TREATMENTS USING THE RISK
FACTORS, AND TOTAL COST PER ACRE
Cost of treatment per acre, $
Treatment First Follow-up Follow-up Total cost Total cost
with 100 per- with .661 with .661 with 100 per
treatment cent failure failure failure cent failure
Chain 3.00 0.00 0.00 3.00 3.00
Rootplow and seed 10.00 0.00 0.00 10.00 10.00
Rootrake and seed 0.00 6.00 3.97 3.971 6.00
Deferment 1.00 1.00 .66 1.66' 2.00
Total 14.00 7.00 4.63 18.63 21.00
10.00 + 6.00 (.661) = 3.97
21.00 + 1.00 (.661) = 1.66
With no treatment and a lease rate of $1.00 per tion of handling costs and the establishment of condiacre and a stocking rate of 20 acres per cow, cost per tions whereby livestock could be supervised better. cow is $20 per year. Assuming that rootplowing and Both ranchmen and range technicians reported
seeding would last 10 years and using the cost of th t ancreae re tehreseded spcieseo
$18.63 an acre, the annual cost of treatment would that on many acreages where the reseeded species of
be near $1.86. Using the same lease rate of $1.00 per blue panic and buffelgrass failed to make an adequate acre and adding the $1.86 per year treatment cost, stand, native grasses had increased in composition.
results in a cost of $2.86 per acre. If the 'carrying Further observations would be necessary before
capacity could be doubled, as some reported, to a satisfactory returns information could be determined
rate of 10 acres per cow, the cost would be $28.60 to compare with the cost data presented here.
per cow per year.
COST-SHARING ASSISTANCE As mentioned earlier, several years are required
Financial assistance has been available to ranch- for a significant acreage of the total rangeland in a men for rootplowing and seeding and other associated ranch to be rootplowed and seeded. This means that
practices through the agricultural conservation pro- small areas of successfully treated land pose a grazing
gram administered by the County Agricultural Stabili- management problem seldom faced by the ranchmen zation and Conservation offices. A common cost- previously. Seasons and intensities for grazing blue
sharing rate for rootplowing is 50 percent of the cost panic and buffelgrass are different from the native not to exceed $5 an acre. Cost-sharing for blue panic- grasses. What appears to be proper use may actually grass seed has amounted to around $.75 per pound, be overuse to these introduced species. Periods of
and $1.25 per pound for buffelgrass. In some cases, deferment also are required and it often may be that
cost-sharing on grass seed has been reduced with a these grasses can be managed better as temporary
decrease in price of seed to ranchmen. pastures similar to Sudangrass. It may well be that
these treated areas should be grazed heavily for short
Cost-sharing for chaining in two directions periods during the summer and rested in other seasons.
amounts to 50 percent of the cost not to exceed $1.25
per acre. Cost-sharing for root-raking has been carried Biologic effects of rootplowing are largely unknown, although the harvest game species of wildlife,
out on the basis of 50 percent of the cost not to exceed particularly white-tailed deer, represents reliable in$2.50 per acre. come to ranchmen in many parts of the Rio Grande
A ranchman is limited in the total amount he Plain, according to hunting preserve records kept in
can earn through cost-sharing. Several years may be compliance with state game regulations.
required to treat a significant portion of the averagesize ranch if the ranchman is to receive help for all ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
work done. However, a number of ranchmen treated
more land than the acres for which they received cost- B spice of t arten of Wildi an
sharng aymets.Bob Spicer of the Department of Wildlife Managesharing payments. ment, and R. A. Darrow and W. E. McCully of the
Department of Range and Forestry, Texas AgriculRETURNS FROM TREATMENT tural Experiment Station. Additional assistance was
obtained from the work unit conservationists in the
Little information concerning returns from root- study area and Durwood E. Ball, range specialist; all plowing and seeding were obtained from the ranch- with the Soil Conservation Service.
men interviewed. Most ranchmen answered that an
increase in carrying capacity was obtained on acreages REFERENCES
treated successfully. Three reported that carrying Allison, D. V. and Rechenthin, C. A. "Rootplowing Proved
capacity had been increased from a rate of 20 acres Best Method of Brush Control in South Texas," Journal of
per cow yearlong to 10 acres per cow yearlong. Bene- Range Management, Vol 9, No. 3, May 1956.
fits from rootplowing and seeding were received, Carter, M. G. "Reclaiming Texas Brushland Range,"
according to the ranchmen who had acreages on which Journal of Range Management, Vol. 11, No. 1, January 1958.
grass stands were established, not only from an in- Rogers, R. H. and Campbell, J. R. "An Economic Analysis
of Land Clearing and Subsequent Crop Production in the Corpus
creased carrying capacity, but also from an increase Christi Area," PR 1628, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, in calf weights, a lesser incidence of insects, a reduc- November 1953.