Jimmy Giannone talks re-establishing native species at pasture walk

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Jimmy Giannone
Jimmy Giannone holds up a native wildflower while giving a presentation on native plants at a pasture walk on Dangelo Family Farm on June 27, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

SALINEVILLE, Ohio — Everything was always about wildlife for Jimmy Giannone while growing up in what his family and friends called Dangeloville.

Giannone is the fourth-generation owner of Dangelo Family Farm, in Salineville, Ohio. Inspired by his love for nature and his grandfather, who had a similar passion for the land, he started applying his extensive background in agriculture conservation to his farm management practices when he took over the family farm roughly two years ago.

Giannone shared some of these practices with visitors when he hosted a pasture walk on June 27 and detailed his efforts to restore native warm-season grasses and wildflowers on the farm to promote soil health and attract wildlife.

“We have this land the way it is because of all the hard work that everybody before me has done and I’m so gratefully gifted to have a piece of land to continue that legacy on,” Giannone said. “I’m a laborer of the land and picking up where my grandparents left off.”

Jimmy Giannone
(From left to right) Kendall Bick hands Jimmy Giannone a sign for hosting the June 2024 Eastern Ohio Grazing Council pasture walk while he stands next to his wife and daughter on June 27, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

History

In 1915, Giannone’s great-grandparents emigrated from Italy and bought the land that would become Dangelo Family Farm. They paid $950 for 113 acres of farmland. Together with their 12 children, they ran a small dairy farm operation.

Giannone’s grandfather, Patsy Dangelo, took over operations in the late 50s with the help of his six brothers. Eventually, they transitioned from dairy to raising 20 Hereford cows for beef.

Dangelo sold the cows in 2017 because of old age and inability to keep up with operations anymore. Meanwhile, Giannone was studying wildlife and fishery resources at West Virginia University. After graduating in 2019, he got a job with Pheasants Forever, a non-profit conservation organization, in northwest Ohio.

“I really enjoyed learning the ag side of things and working with large-scale landowners to put conservation on the ground,” he said, about working at Pheasants Forever. However, he always wanted to live close to home, so as soon as an opportunity arose to move back to Columbiana County, he took it.

Coming home

Giannone worked at the Columbiana County Soil and Water Conservation District and Pollinator Partnership as a state pollinator biologist before moving to his current job as a soil conservationist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service in Carroll County.

It was in 2022 when Gianonne realized he needed to put his own conservation expertise and advice into practice.

“I can’t just go to a farm and start telling them what they need to do to save a bobolink because they’re not going to care,” Giannone said. “I have to relate to them, and get something to work with their operation in order to make a change and conservation to help evolve land (and) help any species that we’re trying to target and protect.”

Giannone bought two bred heifers from friend and former co-worker, Pete Conkle, who works as the district program coordinator for Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation, in 2022 to graze 13 acres of the farm. By 2023, he had bought two more cows.

He established six paddocks of about 2.2 acres each surrounded by a five-strand, high-tensile electric fence. The fence, in particular, reminds Giannone of a conversation he had with his grandfather shortly after he sold off his cows.

“He wanted me to tear (the fence) down. And I said, ‘What if I want to use that someday?’ He said, ‘You don’t wanna do that.’ So I tore down the fence and five years later, here I am putting fence back up,” Giannone said. “Everything I do (is) a big influence of my grandfather.”

Today, he has added three more calves to his operation and an above-ground waterline, grows hay and is restoring native warm-season grasses and wildflowers to the farm.

Native grasses and wildflowers

This summer, Giannone began prepping one of his 2-acre paddocks for native warm-season grasses and wildflowers. So far, he has sprayed the ground with herbicides, to kill off the cool-season grasses, and tilled the ground.

Cool-season grasses grow much faster than warm-season grasses, often outcompeting natives. In order to combat this, Giannone sprays the ground with herbicides. He will spray the paddock three more times this year, with his last herbicide application falling in October.

He will then select native grasses and wildflowers based on the palatability ratings of his operations. Next spring, he plans to seed Indiangrass, switchgrass and big bluestem, and wildflowers such as compass plants, cup plants and a variety of sunflowers. Giannone anticipates the benefits to be massive, especially for soil and cow health.

The paddock he chose to plant the native plants on is rock-solid ground, almost like shallow bedrock. Giannone can’t put a stepping post more than 1 to 2 inches deep in the ground. However, he’s confident the deep root systems of native plants will break up that soil and create additional soil structure and organic matter.

The native plants will also benefit his cows. Native root systems pull micronutrients from deep in the soil to be stored in the plant matter. When the cows graze, they will absorb these nutrients that can’t be provided by cool-season grasses, and they will recycle the nutrients back into the field, creating a constant cycle of healthy soil, Giannone said.

Additionally, the warm-season grasses will provide cows with forage, extending the grazing season and offering a lush alternative to cool-season grasses that struggle in the summer heat.

“Cool season grasses go through a big flush of grazing in the springtime and then, like now, they’re slowing down. So we’re not seeing the growth or the tonnage produced that we would throughout the year,” Conkle said. “Those native grasses, they thrive on that hot dry climate, so now they’re exploding in growth.”

Despite the benefits, Giannone knows the process of establishing natives is time-consuming and can be expensive. When establishing natives, the process usually takes around two years: one year for site preparation and one year for seeding.

Cows cannot graze on the paddock until a year after the first seeding. But, in the long term, it might be worth selling a few cows to dedicate a few acres to establishing native species.

“Long-term, that five acres you’re planting is going to almost add the amount of forage that (is on) maybe eight or nine acres,” Giannone said.

Jimmy Giannone
One of Jimmy Giannone’s favorite quotes hangs on a sign in the barn at Dangelo Family Farm on June 27, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Already, he has a section of farmland with native vegetation. The cows do not eat it, but he doesn’t see it as wasted space. If anything, it promotes other wildlife on the farm like endangered pollinators such as bees, butterflies and birds.

On top of all his conservation efforts, Giannone opened up his own plant nursery called Native Plant Nursery this year, where he sells 30 different species and roughly 2,000 plants.

Giannone’s love for his ancestral land and wildlife stems back to a quote that hangs in the barn overlooking the lush pastures.

“‘We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow from our children.’ I feel like (with) my grandparents and their family that was always a thought process of theirs,” Giannone said. “We have to work for it to preserve it and make it healthy for our kids. That quote there really hits deep because I think that’s how this land has (been) treated for the last 100 years.”

(Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 330-337-3419.)

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