Grass-based animal production systems have proven benefits to soil health and water quality. Animal health and productivity can also be improved in well-managed pasture-based operations. Graziers need reliable, affordable and easy-to-use tools to be able to document productivity benefits that come from adoption of intensive grazing methods and to drive evidence-based decisions. Greater use of these data-driven tools, to replace or complement ‘eyeball’ and un-validated qualitative assessments, will be an outcome. Better understanding of the tools, and practice with them, will lead to faster adoption of intensive (but sustainable) grazing management practices as hard data supports their use.Various tools exist but many have not been formally evaluated side-by-side to determine repeatability, accuracy, ease of use and complementarity, especially for grazier use, in the North Central Region. We will work with progressive graziers to compare tools for use on the farm, construct an integrated toolkit for use by graziers and educators, develop multi-modal training and disseminate results. The first phase is research-based using replicated trials across 2 locations over years 1 and 2 to compare measurement methods for accurate determination of quantity and quality of forage produced. The second phase will involve on-farm demonstration of the tools at multiple field days in year 3. Numerous forage measurement tools will be compared side-by-side including but not limited to: optical and digital refractometers, manual and electronic rising/falling plate meters, sward height stick, crop sensors, compaction meters, and visual methods (pasture condition scoresheet). These tools will be compared to gold standards, like clipping and weighing forage, by evaluating the following characteristics: accuracy, cost, ease-of-use, repeatability of data, time to conduct, ability to use in making management decisions and correlation to actual forage and animal productivity. A tangible outcome will be development of a PPP (Pasture Productivity Pail) that is an integrated set of tools and methods for graziers to use in making management decisions. This tool can complement the NRCS Soil Health Bucket by extending measurement to above ground forage production. This increased measurement of pasture productivity should lead to greater animal productivity and farmer profitability while maintaining soil and water quality.
Graziers and grazing educators are the end-users of the information generated in the project.
Greater use of these quantitative tools, to replace or complement ‘eyeball’ and un-validated qualitative assessments, will be an outcome that allows better decision-making.
Better measurement leads to evidence-based decisions about management practices. Better understanding and practice with the tools should lead to faster adoption of intensive highly-managed grazing practices.
Greater use of intensive (but sustainable) grazing management practices will lead to improved productivity and more sustainable economic conditions for grass-based operations.
Permanent, vigorous and diverse ground cover will provide benefits to soil and water.
Graziers need reliable, affordable and easy-to-use tools to document productivity benefits from adoption of intensive grazing methods and to drive evidence-based decisions. Many tools, methods and protocols exist but are costly, complicated and not value-added. We plan to compare these approaches so we can recommend a valuable toolkit for north central region graziers.
The experiments are being conducted using replicated trials across 2 plots at 2 locations over years 1 and 2. Year 3 will be used to confirm results and demonstrate and disseminate the findings through public field days.
We are working with grazing consultants, extension forage specialists, graziers and NRCS grazing specialists in Year 1 and 2 in hands-on field plots to determine how to calibrate, demonstrate, explain, and integrate forage measurement tools that can be used to train professionals and graziers on their usage and value. These side-by-side in-field demonstrations will provide great networking and learning that will inform our training materials with robust input from different perspectives. We are comparing the tools to gold standard to check for accuracy. We will select a subset of tools that provide useful and complementary information, based on our joint learning in Years 1 and 2. We will select those accurate tools that are cost-effective and time-efficient that we will will then integrate them into a toolkit (Pasture Productivity Pail-PPP.)
In Year 3 we will train professionals and graziers on the usage of these tools and interpretation of the resulting data. We will also film and photograph demonstrations for training use in Year 3. We will generate a program with curriculum explaining the integrated usage of these tools to measure forage productivity and relate it to soil health. The protocol and videos and list of materials and tools will also reside on appropriate agency websites similar to the Soil Health Bucket program.
In year 1 we purchased equipment and supplies, calibrated tools and became familiar with tool usage in the field. We created grazing squares and other tools. We also developed protocols for comparing tools and recording data. We worked with cooperators to identify plot locations and to plan our sampling protocols. We collected forage samples and dried and weighed them to create the gold standard for additional side-by-side measurements. We began to take measurements with rising plate meters and the Grass master to establish sampling procedures to provide reliable data and to determine costs and time to use these tools. Those preliminary measurements are being used to plan year 2 replicated trials. We’ve learned that these more complex tools will likely require significant training that might preclude use by most graziers but could still be useful for educators, agronomists and consultants.
No conclusions at this point. Next two years will be the heavy field plot research work with side-by-side comparisons.
- In year 1 we have been educating the project team members on the usage of the various tools. The collaborators represent SFA, MGLA, NRCS, UofM and Thousand Hills Cattle Company so they have networks that they are hopefully reaching out to as we progress on the project.
- Training/Workshops/Field Days – In years 2 and 3 a total of 4 workshops will be held on farms of collaborators and key influencers across the state to explain the usage and value of using the quantitative tools being evaluated. We estimate 25-30 attendees for each field day.
- Educational materials – manual, video, and fact sheets on integrated use of recommended measurement equipment will be generated in year 3.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Pasture walks and discussions with the project team members.
- Understanding of the potential tools available for measuring pasture productivity