Mercer County farmer growing grasses for wildife

February 17, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - Charles T. "Tommy" Pinkston spent more than 40 years in the Mercer County school system, but he has turned his attention from children to wildlife these days.

Pinkston is participating in a federal cost-share program to grow native grasses and provide a place for wildlife to live and thrive.

About five acres have been sown in native grasses, also called warm-weather grasses, and wildflowers on property that was his father's farm. About three acres at the top of a hill and about two acres in bottom land are planted in the grasses. Although he did not plant the grasses until June 2002, they have begun to take a stand on the farm.

Joe Montgomery, Mercer district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said it takes about two years to establish a stand of the grasses, but the farmer participating in the program signs a five-year contract to grow and mow the plots.


The farmer raising the warm-weather grasses pays 25 percent of the cost of the program while the federal government picks up 75 percent of the cost. The contract calls for him to mow a third of the crop once it is established. He then will mow a second third the next year and the final third a year after that.

Pinkston mowed one section to a height of about eight inches.

Pinkston said some wildlife already has taken advantage of the grasses. A wild turkey was seen nesting in the grasses with 12-13 eggs. He said he watched the nest and one day there were eggs and the next day all of them had hatched. Pinkston also has seen a nest of quail, and deer were plentiful before the grasses were planted.

"I don't hunt or fish," he said last week. "I did it for the wildlife."

He said one of his sons likes to hunt, but there are no ponds on the farm for anyone to fish.

The fences on the 230-acre farm that belonged to Pinkston's father and his 56-acre farm have deteriorated, and he raises neither cattle nor tobacco. Pinkston, 63, retired from education in 1996 as director of pupil personnel in the Mercer County schools.

Shelter for rabbit and quail

He said one of the reasons for growing the grass crop is to provide shelter for rabbit and quail. He said the growth of Kentucky Fescue 31 has made rabbits and quail less plentiful and conservationists believe these warm-weather grasses make a better shelter.

While the government pays 75 percent of the cost of the crop, including the seed, the no-till drill with which to plant the seed, and spraying to remove the resident grasses. Pinkston has taken on some work in the fields that is not paid for with government money.

He has chopped out some thistles still growing among the grasses, and more spraying may be needed to kill the thistles and fescue. Before the first spraying could take place, Pinkston had to clear a good stand of cedar trees, and he did that at his own cost.

The Conservation Service gives the farmer a list of plants to grow and places from which to order the seed. Pinkston talked to a farmer who already was participating in the program, and he had ordered his from the same place, the Bamert Seed Co. in Muleshoe Texas.

Indian Grass is the tallest of the grasses and grows to a height of about five feet. There also are Blue Stem Big Kaw, Little Blue Stem Cimarron, Cheyanne Indian Grass, Elreno Sideoats Grama, Native Treats blend and Showy Partridge Peas.

Pinkston said he appreciates Montgomery and other conservationists taking a look at the crop and explaining facets of the grasses to him.

"I hope it does get established and provides a good wildlife habitat," he said.

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