University of Wyoming researchers found 70 acres of land near Sheridan infested with Ventenata, an invasive grass species that’s been hurting hay production in nearby states.
A single plant of Ventenata was first found near the Sheridan area in 1997. Since then, the grass has spread unchecked. Ventenata is known to be a low-quality biomass grass–it doesn’t add a lot of nutritional content for hay production or livestock foraging. Ventenata can reduce hay production yields by up to 50 percent according to the United States Forest Service.
Director of the Sheridan Research and Extension Center Brian Mealor said the main problem with Ventenata is that it can be mistaken for other grasses in Wyoming.
“You can pretty easily mistake it for cheatgrass, or japanese brom, or something else that is pretty well established. That is a problem,” Mealor said. “So you might just assume that it is something else. So we kind of want to get a better understanding of where it is now.”
Hay was Wyoming’s leading crop in 2014, bringing in $309 million to the state.
Mealor isn’t particularly concerned since the grass has only been documented to have spread to 70 acres in 20 years since it was first discovered. But if researchers end up finding it beyond that point, Ventenata could be much more of a problem.
“If we start riding around and it’s already starting to show up in areas that people haven’t been aware of it, then the red flag is going to be raised higher,” Mealor said.