STUTTGART, Ark. -- A new species of barnyardgrass millet is growing in Arkansas County, Ark. But according to a rice consultant, this millet could make you money, especially if you lease out land for hunting. The millet variety was developed by consultant Ronnie Helms as a waterfowl forage and is a selection of a naturally occurring millet.
Helms began the waterfowl forage project at the request of George Dunklin, a rice producer in DeWitt, Ark., who also owns Five Oaks hunting club. "George wanted his own forage grass that was better than Japanese millet," Helms said. "We were looking for a stronger stalk, shorter maturity and high yield."
Helms, with G&H Associates, Inc., started working on those traits in 2001, and it didn't take long to get results. Three years later, he and Dunklin were ready to market the forage as Five Oaks Golden Grass.
The new forage "brings more to the table than Japanese millet," according to Helms. "It outyields millet by 30 percent to 50 percent, and produces over 2,000 pounds of seed per acre with no fertilizer. The forage has a strong stalk, short maturity and can re-seed itself the following year and come up to a complete stand."
Helms planted 20 acres of Golden Grass in 2002 and sowed the harvested seed in woods and rice fields. "It's been phenomenal the way it came up and headed out," Helms said. "We flooded the fields and the ducks ate it up."
The latter was the litmus test for Golden Grass in more ways than one. "The last few years have been lean duck hunting years," Helms said. But the Five Oaks hunting area has been one of the most consistent duck hunting areas around. I think the forage has something to do with it."
A common formula for a successful hunting club is to provide a resting area for ducks to reduce hunting pressure, according to Helms. "The ducks rest there at night, and they'll fly to the green timber in the mornings. That's where the duck hunters hunt."
Golden Grass is a good way to help hold the ducks in those resting areas, according to Helms. "They'll stay there as long as there is food and safety and nobody is hunting them."
Conversely, "some people may only have a little two-acre slough, and they want something in addition to acorns in a green timber area to attract the ducks. They can seed Golden Grass."
Golden Grass could be a good choice to sow on rice fields that are laid out, according to Helms, and any herbicide used for barnyardgrass will easily control the forage. Helms is also looking at the possibility of flying on Golden Grass seed after the last watering of Group 4 soybeans. "When you cut your beans, you already have this established for duck hunting.
This year, Helms planted around 350 acres of Golden Grass as a seed crop. Harvest began in July at 11.2 percent moisture. The crop will ratoon before the field is flooded up this fall for waterfowl feeding. Ducks will feed in the winter, and the crop will still re-seed itself the following year.
Helms says the straw strength of Golden Grass is much tougher than its cousin, barnyardgrass. "It doesn't fall down like regular barnyardgrass."
Golden Grass is about a 60-day crop from emergence to maturity. "You can plant it as early as April up to late July, the first of August, and have plenty of duck forage. Yield is about 2,000 pound plus per acre with no fertilizer."
Helms and Dunklin have not established a price for Golden Grass, but plan on selling it in 50-pound bags. "The seeding rate for an average duck hunter using a spinner on the back of a four-wheeler is about 25 pounds per acre," Helms said. "We drill-seeded at 10 pounds to 12 pounds when we were increasing the seed."
Helms admits that it's somewhat odd that he's helping a client grow a species of barnyardgrass millet right in the middle of a large rice farm. But Dunklin and Helms are looking for an edge in the competitive world of hunting clubs.
"A lot of money is spent on land, water, waders, shotguns, boats and motors, but if you don't have anything to hold your ducks there, you've wasted your money," Helms said. "That's how the Golden Grass helps. It's a good waterfowl forage."
For more information on Five Oaks Golden Grass, contact Richard Gaston at 870-946-8220.