Cheatgrass challenge

UNL Bromus Eradicators
Wyoming Restoration Challenge:  Cheatgrass

University of Wyoming Extension weed specialist Brian Mealor started the Wyoming Restoration Challenge to rid land cheatgrass and other weeds, and restore the pasture into a more productive and diverse plant community.  Teams were assigned a quarter-acre plot of pasture at the UW James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Lingle, WY.  Each team developed and implement a plan to meet the land management goals for each team’s site. The challenge started April 2015 and concluded July 2017 with judging on weed/cheatgrass control, plant diversity, forage production, education and outreach, and scalability.

The UNL Bromus Eradicators of the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center was one of 11 teams competing in the challenge.  Team members are Dr. Mitch Stephenson, Range and Forage specialist, Dr. Nevin Lawrence, Integrated Weed Management specialist, Bethany Johnston and Gary Stone, Extension educators.  Our intent in this challenge was to utilize management tools available to producers to help manage weeds and improve their grasslands. 

Cheatgrass challenge results

Final judging of the plots took place July 2017.  Results were announced Aug. 24 at the University of Wyoming Open House at the SAREC site.

The big day came and there was an exceptional turnout of producers from the Wyo-Braska area.  Team members were present at their plots to explain their management strategies to the public as they viewed the results of two and half years of work.  The public was invited to vote for a “People’s Choice” as they walked through the plots.

The final judging was based on the following criteria:  agricultural production, habitat    (desirable / native diversity) - management of cheatgrass and other weed species; and outreach and education. 

The winners of the challenge was plot #11, the “Wrinkle Bellies”, comprised of Glendo, WY ranchers and the USDA / NRCS – Wheatland, WY.  Their strategy focused on intensive grazing practices.  The winner of the people’s choice award was the SAREC Lingle farm management team, plot #9.  Their plot certainly looked good, but only had a single grass species, pubescent wheatgrass.

The “UNL Bromus Eradicators”, plot #6, used a combination of management strategies
focused to deal with cheatgrass on varying numbers of acres – large and small landowners / managers.  Timed mowing and chemical applications were utilized to manage the cheatgrass and broadleaf weeds in the plot.  We felt mowing offered a different alternative to grazing because the smaller acreages infested with cheatgrass may not have time or the livestock to use intensive grazing.  The same could be said for larger acres - time, livestock and commitment to do this practice.

This extension project was a lot of fun and a great leaning teaching opportunity for all.  I wish to acknowledge my fellow teammates Dr. Mitch Stephenson, Dr. Nevin Lawrence, and Bethany Johnston for all of their help and input.  I also want to recognize Jessica Groskopf and Benjamin Schiltz for their assistance with the project.  Finally, I want to acknowledge Dr. Brian Mealor and Beth Fowers for this great extension idea and project and the production crew as the UWYO Lingle SAREC for all of their help and assistance.

More information on the final project will be presented at the Range Day, Chadron State College, January 16, 2018, hosted by the Upper Niobrara White NRD; and at Grasslands College, CSU, Fort Collins, February 2018.

I hope to have a more detailed write-up on the challenge available sometime in 2018.

Gary Stone, Nebraska Extension Educator, Panhandle Research & Extension Center

Photos from cheatgrass challenge
Cheatgrass control plot

As a reminder of what the challenge teams were dealing with.

Cheatgrass control plot

The winning plot #11, the “Wrinkle Bellies”, Glendo Ranchers and USDA – NRCS

Cheatgrass control plot

The people’s choice winners, plot #9, the UWYO Lingle SAREC production crew

Cheatgrass control plot

The UNL “Bromus Eradicators” plot #6 at the start of the challenge, April 2, 2015

Cheatgrass control plot

The UNL “Bromus Eradicators” plot #6, June 15, 2017

Cheatgrass control plot

The UNL “Bromus Eradicators” plot #6, August 24, 2017

About the UNL GrassSnap app

One of the tools used by the Bromus Eradicators was the UNL GrassSnap- the Photo Monitoring App. Monitoring is the key to good rangeland/pasture management and photo-monitoring can be a straight forward tool to use. However, there can be issues like getting the same landscape view between years, ensuring the pictures have been stored in an easily downloaded and useable manner, and that written comments are tied to the correct image.

But no longer! With GrassSnap, photo-monitoring is a snap! This app assists producers in grabbing repeatable photo-monitoring data, and saving it on their smart device in an orderly fashion so it can be downloaded to the home computer to study.

Check out the unique features of the app, like the ghost image that allows the producer to effortlessly replicate the landscape view each year. Or how the app photo-stamps the pasture’s name, date, and GPS location to the actual digital photograph, and then saves the photos so they are directly added to the folder of previous years' images. No renaming of picture files needed!  Comments, Nebraska grazing indexes, and Apparent Trend Scores can be tied with the photos.

GrassSnap is currently available for Apple smart devices.  The Android version is coming soon.

More information can be found at: .

We did not limit ourselves to just our plot, but have photographically monitored our competition too!

 Gary Stone, Nebraska Extension Educator

Progress reports from the Bromus Eradicators Team from 2015-17

April 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot

The UNL Bromus Eradicators are off and going with the challenge.  We will provide you an update using photos similar to what the UNL GrassSnap                                                           ( can provide.  We will show a chronological review of what we have done so far on our plot, number 6. This photo shows Plot 6 as it looked on April 2, 2015, the start date, very similar to what the other teams had.

May 5, 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot May 5 2015

Before any treatments or planning could be considered, The UNL Bromus Eradicators conducted an inventory of plants in our plot.  Some of the undesirable plants included cheatgrass, kochia, Canada thistle, Russian thistle, Redroot pigweed, dandelion, Marshelder, Buffalobur, Common Lambsquaters, prickly lettuce, tumble mustard, Virginia groundcherry, bristly foxtail and others.  Beneficials were few and included western wheatgrass, buffalo grass, western snowberry, sand lovegrass and prairie goldenrod.  The native grass was thin in some areas of the plot and non-existent in others, or bare ground.  We also checked the soil type and evaluated the bio-matter / litter on the plot.    

This photo shows Plot 6 as it looked on May 5, 2015. Once our plant inventory was completed, we could now plan and implement our management strategies to control the cheatgrass and other undesirable weeds in the plot.  We won’t give our reasoning just yet – don’t want to tip our hand to the competition!

May-June 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot June 5 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot June 5 2015

The UNL Bromus Eradicators decided to rotary mow the cheatgrass, during the green seed set on the cheatgrass.  First we established what the broadleaf plants were evident and what the appropriate plant (herbicide label) size was, we treated the plot with dicamba + 2,4-D herbicide on May 22, 2015.  We received very good control of the emerged broadleaf weeds with the treatment.  We mowed on June 5, 2015, then again on July 5, 2015.  Mowing cheatgrass at the proper time has shown that viable seed production can be reduced and the plants that do grow back produce less seed.  We believe mowing can be a viable option, especially if there are not enough livestock for an intensive grazing practice.  Later that summer, the broadleaf weeds were spot sprayed again with dicamba + 2,4D and the Canada thistle was treated with Milestone. 

Top: Plot 6 as it looked after mowing on June 5, 2015, compared to an adjoining plot that has not been mowed.

Bottom: Plot 6 after mowing on June5, 2015.

September - October 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot September 17, 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot October 31, 2015

Since this challenge is an experiment of sorts, the UNL Bromus Eradicators decided to spray the soil amendment MB-906, which contains the bacteria, Pseudomonas fluorescens.  Results of this application may not be evident for 2 to 3 years.  From the photos, you can see the native grasses starting to appear.  There are still some bare ground spots in the plot.   

Top: Plot 6 as it looked on September 17, 2015.

Bottom: Plot 6 as it looked on October 31, 2015, just prior to the application of MB-906 on November 6, 2015.

December 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot December 8, 2015
Cheatgrass challenge plot December 8, 2015

To fill in some of the bare spots and establish more desirable plant diversity, the UNL Bromus Eradicators dormant seeded the plot on December 8, 2015.  The grass mix included Western, Thickspike and Streambank wheatgrasses, Green Needlegrass, Blue grama, Prairie sandreed, Sand dropseed, Sand bluestem, and Canada Wildrye.  The seeding rate was 7.2 pounds per acre, but we double seeded, for a rate of 14.3 pounds per acre.  Soil temperature was 32° F, the soil was not frozen and there was good soil moisture. 

Top: Plot 6 being dormant seeded on December 8, 2015.

Bottom: Plot 6 dormant seeded on December 8, 2015.

Spring 2016
Cheatgrass challenge plot April 2016
Cheatgrass challenge plot May 26, 2016

Spring 2016!  From the first photo below, on April 8, 2016, you would think we are doing fairly well, no cheatgrass.  NOT!  The next photo on May 26, 2016, tells a different story.  We still have cheatgrass, and a few other weeds, but so does our competition!  We cannot tell if any of our seeded grasses are coming up.  We mowed the plot again on May 26, 2016 and then decided to let the plot rest for the duration of the summer.  In August of 2016, we will evaluate our plot and determine our next course of action.    

Top: Plot 6 on April 8, 2016.

Bottom: Plot 6 on May 26, 2016.


July 2016
Cheatgrass challenge plot July 8, 2016
Cheatgrass challenge plot July 29, 2016

Cheatgrass challenge plot Aug. 23 2016

You cannot say the weather doesn’t change and bring un-expected events in Wyoming.  From the first photo of Plot 6 on July 8, you can see our native grasses are doing quite well and going to seed.  But on July 27, 2016, there was a MAJOR hail storm on the plots and surrounding cropland.  From the second photo, you can see Plot 6 as it appeared on July 29, 2016.  The storm really beat things down.  The third photo shows how the grasses have come back, taken August 25, 2016.  We still have some bare spots.  Our grass seeding has not established as we would have liked.  We still have cheatgrass, though not as much.  There are still some minor broadleaf weeds we need to deal with.  We are not finished yet.  We will do some management practice this fall, but will talk about that on a later post.  Stay tuned! 

Top: Plot 6 on July 8, 2016.

Middle: Plot 6 on July 29, 2016, two days after the hail storm.

Bottom: Plot 6 on Aug. 23, 2016.

March 2017
Cheatgrass control plot
Cheatgrass control plot

It has been almost two years to the day since this outstanding University of Wyoming Extension project was initiated – a great idea for all.  This challenge is in the home stretch and will conclude this July.  Winter has come and gone (maybe).  The plots are starting to take on some green color in places.  Some of the color is from native grasses, the other, you guessed it, cheatgrass.  All of the plots have some. 

Our chemical check strips, AKA skips, are apparent.  Fortunately, they are small and a great indication that the products have worked (so far).  Something to consider when planning a herbicide treatment:  Will it work?  Since cheatgrass management is a long-term process, a small trial area may be something a producer should do before potentially investing thousands of dollars in a herbicide treatment.  See what works and what does not first.  It may take a year to gather the information, but it will be well worth it in the long run.  Contact your local extension office to see if any research has been done on the products / pest / site. 

There is a wealth of information out there to draw on.  There is some small Kochia showing up in a few places.  Will wait a few more weeks and warmer weather to determine any management plans.  Stay tuned . . .  

Top photo: Plot 6 on March 30, 2017, looking west.
Bottom photo: Plot 6 on March 30, 2017, looking north.

June 2017
Cheatgrass control plot
Cheatgrass control plot
Cheatgrass control plot

Since our last report, the Kochia has grown and it was time to address the situation.  On May 26, 2017, we treated the Kochia with a mixture of 2, 4-D + dicamba + Triclopyr + Fluroxypyr + surfactant.  Why such a mix?  There are other weeds in the plot that have to be taken care of and we need to follow the rules of the challenge and use products that are labeled for the site.  Had a few Musk and Canada thistle, and dandelion. Our plot may not look the best right now.  There are some open / bare areas that have not supported plant growth of any kind.  Therefore, our plot looks a little “spotty.” May take a soil sample and have it tested just to see what may be there.

The other plots all have cheatgrass.  All have one or more of the weeds in them:  Kochia, Canada and Musk thistles, Buffalo bur, Marshelder, mustards, Western salsify, Russian knapweed and others. This challenge is in the home stretch and will conclude this July. The winners of the challenge will be announced Aug. 24 during the open house at the University of Wyoming James C Hageman Sustainable Agriculture and Research Center, Lingle, WY.  Plan to attend and see first-hand the results of this great 2-year extension project.  One team will be selected.  I use the term “winners of the challenge,” but the real winners will be the landowners / land managers who will benefit from the knowledge gained from this project

Plan to have some more posting throughout the summer and into the fall.                                  Stay tuned . . .

Top Photo: Plot 6 on May 26, 2017, looking west

 Middle Photo: Plot 6 on May 26, 2017, looking north

Bottom Photo: Just a reminder of what everyone was dealing with two years ago . . .

June 30, 2017
Cheatgrass control plot
Cheatgrass control plot

June 15, 2017:  Kochia and few other broadleaf weeds were evident and were treated May 26, 2017.  Helped clean up the plot.  As with any integrated weed management program, keep in mind that the unexpected can happen and be flexible.  Mother Nature does not like a vacuum and will grow something to fill in.  So expect other weed problems to occur even if you are only after cheatgrass.  That being said, we have several areas in our plot where nothing seems to grow.  Will take a soil sample and see if it can indicate what the problem is.  It could be due to the heavy duff / old plant material.  Since it was over-grazed for a number of years, there could be some other soil issues at work.  Will see.

On August 24, 2017, the University of Wyoming SAREC James C Hageman Research and Extension Center will host an open house.  At that time the winners of the cheatgrass challenge will be announced.  Plan to attend and see all of the plots first hand and judge for yourself! 

Top photo: Plot 6 looking north.

Bottom photo: Plot 6 looking west

Meetings, workshops, tours

As part of the UNL Bromus Eradicators education and outreach, along with other UNL extension personnel, we have conducted and taken part in a number of cheatgrass meetings across the Nebraska Panhandle.  In each of those meetings, we have made the Wyoming Restoration Challenge:  Cheatgrass, part of the program.  We have held two cheatgrass management workshops and plot tours at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  One was held in June 2015 and the other June 2016; with each having over 35 attendees.  The other meeting was in Chadron, NE; hosted by the Upper Niobrara White Natural Resources District.  There were over 110 in attendance at that meeting.  As tour groups from across the state and around the world came through the PHREC, if we were selected to give a presentation, the cheatgrass challenge was mentioned.  In all cases, the presentations were well received, showed a lot of interest and the producers wanted updates on the cheatgrass challenge project when they occurred.  A number of articles have been published in local newspapers and one in the Nebraska Farmer about the challenge.