Maximizing profitability, sustainability, and carbon sequestration of no-till forage systems for finishing beef cattle in the Gulf Coast region

Final Report for LS09-221

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $136,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Louisiana
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project shows that it is possible to produce 1100 lb forage-fed animals with 17-19 months of age. Systems under evaluation, although not the only ones that can exist in the Gulf Coast region, were successful in accomplishing the objectives. We were able to demonstrate that different forages or mixed pastures emit different amounts of greenhouse gases and that management practices such as amount and timing of application of fertilizer can impact these results. Net profit per steer was proved to be greater for Systems 1 and 2 compared to System 3. The use of certain management practices, labor required, and hay produced are major variables that need to be considered when producing forage-fed beef; however, the implementation of a C market may change the profitability of the forage systems. The relevance of forage-fed beef production for the region and the great interest in the topic is clearly stated on the high number of stakeholders that assisted with meetings, pasture walks, field days, and workshops. Forage-fed beef production may be on the path of becoming an important system in the region, promoting local economies and food systems.

Project Objectives:

1) Evaluate the productivity (pounds produced per acre, carcass characteristics and beef quality produced) of 3 forage systems that will provide economic and sustainable alternatives to produce forage-fed beef in the Gulf Coast region.
2) Assess carbon sequestration in various forage systems differing in the intensity of use of resources.
3) Evaluate the costs and returns and labor requirements associated with each of three forage systems, assuming benefits of carbon sequestration.
4) Disseminate gathered information via peer-reviewed journals, extension publications, magazines (The Louisiana Cattlemen and Gulf Coast Cattleman), eXtension and the Gulf Coast Beef Education Alliance, which is already established and functioning, reaching hundreds of producers and extension agents in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida through an internet interface that communicates on a monthly basis.

Introduction:

Producers in the U.S. Gulf Coast region are in a situation where their economic returns are largely determined by the weaned calf market. In 2007, 750 lb southeastern calves were discounted $11.84/cwt compared with Midwestern cattle. The Gulf Coast has abundant forage resources during most of the year. Monocultures like wheat, ryegrass, bahiagrass, and bermudagrass are common. Fuel cost has skyrocketed and with it the price of fertilizer. All around the U.S., there is a trend showing that consumer demand for “organic” or “natural” foods is increasing sharply. Adding to this trend, consumers are more inclined to support locally produced products, favoring localized economies. Forage-finished beef promotes environmentally sound practices, improving soil nutrient cycling, conserving soil and water, and reducing to the minimum the dependence on non-renewable resources. By definition, forage-fed beef is produced only on forages without any type of grain or by-products; only mineral/vitamins can be added to the strict forage diet. It is a healthy product (functional food) that can be beneficial in the human diet through the presence of conjugated linoleic acid (reduces fat, preserves muscle, has anticarcinogenic properties, prevents diabetes) and omega-3-fatty acids (promotes vascular health and development and maintenance of brain function).

Although the major causes of increased greenhouse gas emissions are due to population growth and industrialization, agriculture contributes to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through its use of fossil fuels during cultivation, and indirectly through energy-intensive inputs such as fertilizers. Since grassland agriculture is also a significant contributor of methane and nitrous oxide, there is now increasing pressure to curb its emissions. No-till forage establishment improves soil and air quality, minimizes surface runoff and soil erosion, enhances water quality, and reduces greenhouse gas contributions. An additional economic benefit is savings in fossil fuel costs due to reduced equipment use. Sustainability of these forage systems, in part, depends on soil quality for forage production and carbon sequestration. Soil quality improvement is essential for maintaining and enhancing soil productivity of land for agricultural sustainability. The influence of these forage systems on soil quality could be reflected in integrated evaluation of various nutrient and soil property relations, soil carbon (C) storage and carbon gas emissions. Different forage species composition along with cattle grazing activities in production systems likely cause different interactions that yield different soil quality, carbon transformation characteristics, and therefore productivity.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Anne Blanchet
  • Holly Boland
  • Melissa Boutwell
  • Stanley Dutile
  • Gene and Jeff Foster
  • Stuart Gardner
  • Jeffrey Gillespie
  • Andrew Granger
  • Tom Guess
  • RoyLee Herbert
  • Roy Laborde
  • Arthur Landry
  • Melvin Marceaux
  • Kenneth McMillin
  • Hank Schumacher
  • Kurt Unkel
  • Jim Wang
  • Richard Woods

Research

Materials and methods:

The description of materials and methods follows the objectives.
Objective 1
Steers (3/8 Gelbvieh, 3/8 Red Angus, and ¼ Brahman purchased every year from a single source) were assigned to one of three systems immediately after weaning through harvest at an age of 17 to 19 months. Fifty-four fall born steers were blocked at weaning by weight (545 ± 12 lb) into 9 groups (6 steers/group). Each group was randomly assigned to one of three treatments. Each treatment was replicated three times. All systems had the same stocking rate (2.5 ac/head), so a total of 135 ac were used. The 3 system treatments represent different forage systems with different degrees of management complexity and expertise required for appropriate utilization of resources:

Forage System 1
Paddock A: bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon, BG); Paddock B: annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum, RG; seeding rate of 50 lb/ac); Paddock C: BG+RG (seeding rate of 30 lb/ac).

Forage System 2
Paddock A: BG; Paddock B: RG (seeding rate of 30 lb/ac) + rye (Secale cereale; seeding rate of 30 lb/ac) + berseem (Trifolium alexandrium; seeding rate 15 lb/ac), red (Trifolium pratense; seeding rate 10 lb/ac) and white (Trifolium repens; seeding rate 5 lb/ac) clovers; Paddock C: dallisgrass (Paspalum dilatatum) + berseem and white clovers.

Forage System 3
Paddock A: BG; Paddock B: dallisgrass + berseem, red, and white clovers; Paddock C: RG+rye+ berseem, red, and white clovers; Paddock D: forage soybean (Glycine max, seeding rate 60 lb/ac)/RG (for summer and winter, respectively); Paddock E: sorghum-sudan hybrid (seeding rate 30 lb/ac)/RG (for summer and winter, respectively).

All annual forages were no-till planted with a 15 ft-no till planter. At the beginning of the first and 3rd year, soils were sampled, fertilized according to the recommendations and limestone applied (where needed). Excess forage above that grazed in the paddocks was harvested as hay and fed within the system whenever required. All pastures were rotationally stocked and grazed to a pre-determined stubble height (different depending on the species under consideration and time within grazing season). Forage mass (double sampling technique, disk meter readings and clipping at 1 inch stubble) was determined monthly, and nutritive value (crude protein, neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber, and dry matter digestibility) determined using Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy or NIRS (DairyOne Forage Testing Laboratory, Ithaca, NY).

Steers were weighed on a monthly basis. Fresh water and mineral-mix supplement were available at all times. From May to November of each year, shade was provided in all pastures using portable shades (metal frames and black woven polypropylene cloth providing 80% shade). Every year, 18 steers (6 per treatment) were harvested at a commercial abattoir. Carcass data were collected including: skeletal maturity, marbling score, ribeye area, kidney-pelvic-heart fat, and fat thickness. Based on these data, yield grade was determined.

All data were analyzed using Proc Mixed of SAS. Pasture was the experimental unit, treatment the fixed factor and year was considered random and sampling day as the repeated measure for all analyses. Level of significance was set at P < 0.05 and a trend was declared at 0.05 < P < 0.10.

Most of the information generated in this objective was used by Mr. Jose Rodriguez to complete the requirements for a Master of Science degree at Louisiana State University.
Records of inputs (seed, fertilizer, herbicide, mineral mix, veterinary supplies, hay produced and used, and other supplies) were kept in an orderly fashion for economic evaluation (Objective 3).

Objective 2
Total soil C storage in different plant systems was determined by soil C contents at the initial and final stage of the project. To obtain soil C content, soil core samples were taken up to 1 meter (approximately 39 inches) depth from each forage system. The core was sectioned into 10 cm (approximately 4 inches) subsamples and each section analyzed for total C using a combustion C/N analyzer. By integrating accumulation of total organic carbon (TOC), total C storage was determined. In addition, C gas emission was determined. In doing so, close chambers were set up at selected forage systems to monitor the carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions. Gas samples were collected monthly and analyzed for CO2 and CH4 using gas chromatography. Flux of these emissions was determined based on area and volume of chamber sampler and gas concentration measured. Besides CO2 and CH4, nitrous oxide (N2O) was also determined. Nitrous oxide has higher global warming potential (GWP) than CO2 and CH4, hence the importance of determining this emission.

Objective 3
Through interaction with 10 grass-fed beef producers, including collaborators on this project, Dr. Gillespie and two graduate students in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness collected data on resource use of grass-fed beef farms via personal interview. Based upon the interviews, production costs, returns data, and costs for grass-fed beef production were to be determined. Grass-fed beef producers were identified by the researchers as those who were involved as collaborators, through websites such as Eatwild.com and others where the producers advertised on their own websites, and through discussion with grass-fed beef producers. The intention was to identify all grass-fed beef producers in Louisiana and throughout the Gulf Coast region of the Southeast (East Texas, Southern Alabama, Southern Georgia, and Southern Mississippi. We were particularly interested in identifying producers who were producing in similar environments to producers in Louisiana (climate, forage types, etc.). All were sent letters and were contacted to request a survey. Ten agreed to the survey.

To conduct the economic analysis of the experiment conducted at the LSU AgCenter Iberia Research Station, detailed records were kept for the years of the experiment for each of the pastures. Graduate Research Assistant Mr. Basu Bhandari developed 27 cost and returns estimates on the basis of 3 treatments × 3 replicates × 3 years. Differences in fixed costs, variable costs, returns, and net returns among the treatments were determined using a mixed model with fixed treatments, and year as a fixed repeated measure effect. The Kenward- Roger Degrees of Freedom method was used.

Soil carbon emission data and soil samples had been collected and analyzed by soil scientists (Dr. Wang and his team). Net GWP in kg of CO2 equivalent for each treatment was determined similar to that conducted by Liebig et al. (2010), which included nitrogen fertilizer production and application (NPA), CH4 emission from enteric fermentation (EF), change in soil organic carbon (?SOC), the atmospheric CH4 flux, and the N2O flux. Since the experiment was run for only three years, change in soil carbon was barely noticeable. Therefore, CO2 flux was used instead of change in soil carbon for the GWP calculation. Carbon prices that would entice farmers to switch management practices (treatments) were determined.

Objective 4
Outreach publications, abstracts and proceedings in scientific meetings, and an MS thesis were published during the course of the project. Pasture walks, workshops and field days were organized and data presented. Since 2010, Dr. Scaglia participates (in 2012 was secretary and in 2013 Chair of the group) in the Multi-State project (SERA041) “Beef Cattle Production Utilizing Forages in the Southeast to Integrate Research and Extension Programs across State Boundaries”. Every year, the day before the start of the Annual Southern Section Animal Science meetings, the group meets as part of the requirements for the group. In these meetings, Dr. Scaglia has presented data from this project to all attendees (15-25 Research and Extension faculty have been in attendance from AL, AR, FL, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, and VA) and has served to find common ground with peers for the development of new collaborative projects.

Research results and discussion:

This section will be presented by objective.

Objective 1
Figures 1, 2 and 3 show the forage data summarized by system and sampling time (month). The only significant difference (P < 0.05) was detected when steers in System 3 had access to sorghum-sudan hybrid. Forage mass and crude protein were greater and NDF smaller for this grass when compared to Systems 1 and 2 (bermudagrass).

Body weight gains of steers (by system) are presented in Figure 4. This graph shows us that during the summer month and hay feeding period (starting on average in late October/early November to early January), steers did not perform well. In Figure 5, the average daily gains by period are presented. During summer, steers gained a little over a half a pound a day and during the hay feeding, as expected, even less. There are a couple of reasons for this low performance: 1) steers were weaned in May with 8-9 months of age; hence, they are growing animals with very high requirements (energy, protein). Perennial summer grasses, like bermudagrass, fall short of providing the nutrients required by this class of cattle. Concentrations of CP and NDF (Figures 2 and 3) are low and high, respectively, for this class of cattle. Percent TDN in bermudagrass was also low at 53% as an average for the grazing season. Sorghum-sudan hybrids can dramatically improve this issue but grazing periods should extend longer than what we were able to accomplish in this project. As an example, Figure 6 shows the average daily gains of steers in the different systems when those in System 3 were grazing the sorghum-sudan hybrid. There was a significant difference (P = 0.02) on ADG for this period of time. Steers in System 3 gained over 25% more than those grazing bermudagrass; 2) Even though cattle used had a 25% Brahman influence, the heat and humidity of South Louisiana as well as the fact that we are referring to young animals may have impacted animal performance. This impact was not studied in this Project but it certainly opened the door to new research ideas.

It does not come as a surprise the low animal performance during the hay feeding period (Figure 5). Despite the fact that the bermudagrass hay was stored in a barn, its nutritive value was low (CP= 7.1%, NDF= 65%, TDN= 43%). On average (3 years), steers consumed 15 round bales of hay per treatment per year (18 steers/treatment). The month of greatest consumption was December because very little bermudagrass was available and ryegrass was not ready to be grazed yet. Hay produced was on average 120 round bales per system per year; System 1 was the one with greatest production due to the greatest area of bermudagrass available when compared to the other two systems. This explains the greatest hay income for System 1 (Table 3).

Average daily gains during winter are explained by several factors: 1) there is a compensatory gain effect. When cattle are somehow restricted in their genetic potential for growth and their diet is changed to a much greater nutritive value such as in this case, this response is expected; 2) cattle are 1 year old and older, hence requirements (concentration on a DM basis) for protein and energy decreased and performance improved accordingly; 3) greater nutritive value of winter annual forages when compared to summer forages.

Carcass characteristics of steers are presented in Table 1. No differences (P > 0.05) in any variable were detected. If the whole experimental period is considered, some minor differences in performance between systems that occurred for “short periods of time” (like when steers in System 3 grazed sorghum-sudan) disappeared. This may explain why these characteristics are similar across systems. An aspect that many consumers are concerned about when referring to forage-fed beef is tenderness. Beef produced by steers from the different systems had similar tenderness and the Warner-Bratzler value is lower than 8 lb, a breaking point between tender and not tender (lower than 8 lb is considered tender).

Objective 2
The average data of soil characteristics for the forage systems are shown in Table 2. Dalligrass+ clovers, bermudagrass, sorghum-sudan (summer) + ryegrass (winter), and soybean (summer) + ryegrass (winter) systems showed the greater soil C contents as compared to ryegrass or ryegrass + clovers, which could be due to a long–term impact of these production systems. Regardless of the different pasture systems, the major accumulation of C was in the top 10 cm of the soil profile (Figure 7). Due to the short term of this project (3 years), we did not observe any statistically significant difference in soil C contents between these pasture systems, which suggests the difficulty in interpreting the soil C storage as influenced by these specific systems. However, on greenhouse gas emissions, dalligrass+ clovers pastures yielded the highest CO2 and CH4-C emissions whereas bermudagrass exhibited the highest N2O-N emissions (Figures 8-10). The high N2O-N emission was likely due to the high N fertilizer used in bermudagrass.

Objective 3
Results of this objective are presented under “Economic Evaluation”.

Objective 4
The list of publications is presented under “Publications/Outreach”. Data generated in this project were used in 1 MS thesis (School of Animal Sciences; LSU). Abstracts were presented at the Annual National Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy and American Society of Animal Science, and Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists Annual Meetings (Animal Science and Agricultural Economics sections). In 2013, the abstract entitled “Analysis of pasture systems to maximize the profitability and sustainability of grass-fed beef production” presented by Mr. B. Bhandari won first place poster at the Southern Agricultural Economics Association meetings in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 3 to 6th.

Outreach publications included articles written by Dr. G. Scaglia in Louisiana Farm and Ranch (2500 copies are distributed), Louisiana Agriculture (4,000 copies distributed including Louisiana senators, representatives, industry, and other stakeholders), and in the newsletter annually produced and distributed (120 individuals) by the LSU AgCenter Iberia Research Station (IRS).

Other presentations of research data (with handouts for attendees) generated in this project include 5 pastures walks held at the IRS (attended by other faculty and extension agents) and at 4 collaborating farms (more than once in each farm throughout the life of the project), property of Mrs. Anne Blanchet, Mr. Harvey Gonsoulin, Dr. Fred Rodosta, and Mr. Wedge Barth). Dr. Scaglia played a pivotal role in these activities, representing the interest of the project and training individuals and agents on issues like determination of forage mass and grazing management: setting stocking rate, factors to consider when using rotational stocking management, use of electric fence, soil sampling technique, and fertilization based on soil analyses among other topics. There were 2 annual field days at the IRS and for one of them, the program was concentrated on forage-fed beef production. In it, information was also presented by Drs. Gillespie and Scaglia. In these activities, participation of producers was crucial to support the research work. Those producers have helped disseminate the information and recruited new producers that have never attended these types of outreach activities before, hence increasing the reach of this proposal. Also, two pasture walks organized by Southern University served as another scenario to disseminate our information.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

OUTREACH ACTIVITIES (by year)
Dr. Jason Rowntree (Extension Beef Cattle Specialist for the LSU AgCenter at the time the proposal was submitted) left the LSU AgCenter at the end of the first year of this project. His activities on this project during that year included a webinar for the Gulf Coast Beef Education Alliance that called the attention of over 80 attendees (live) and more than 250 have seen the video. Unfortunately, due to Dr. Rowntree’s departure, this effort was discontinued due to the lack of time of the PIs to accomplish it. However, Dr. Scaglia took the responsibility of pursuing the activities planned for the Extension component of this Project. The following is a list of activities (by year) in which Dr. Scaglia participated and presented data regarding this project. Unless noted all attendees are farmers/ranchers.

2009
-Pasture walk at Mrs. A. Blanchard’s Farm (Abbeville, LA). February 21. 20 attendees.
-Pasture walk at Dr. Rodosta’s Farm (LA). April 4. 29 attendees.
-LSU AgCenter. Forage and Beef Cattle group meeting. Dean Lee Station, Alexandria, LA. March 11. 15 Agents and Faculty.
-Acadiana Beef Cattle Producers Field Day. Iberia Research Station. Presenter. March 21. 96 attendees.
-Beef Advisory Committee Meeting for Lafayette Parish (Lafayette; Mr. Stan Dutile, County Agent). April 17. 16 attendees.
-Farm Bureau Meeting; Beef Cattle Group; Alexandria, LA. April 21 and Baton Rouge, LA. April 27. 20 attendees.
-Grazing Conference in Baton Rouge organized by the LSU AgCenter, SU, and SARE at SU. 41 attendees. May 27.
-Annual tour of Extension agents visited the Iberia Research Station. June 1. 45 agents in attendance.
-Pasture Walk at the Iberia Research Station. July 18. 15 attendees
-Cattle Producers of Louisiana CEO Dr. Dave Foster and 3 producers from East Baton Rouge parish visited the forage fed beef project. August 12.

2010
-SERA041 Multi-State Project Annual Meeting. Orlando, FL. February 7. 25 attendees (Research and Extension Faculty of Universities of southeastern United States).
-Vermilion Parish Advisory Committee Meeting (Mr. Andrew Granger is the County Agent). Abbeville, LA. February 22. 15 attendees.
-Producers from Franklinton visited the Iberia Research Station. March 10. 5 attendees.
-Pasture Walk at the Iberia Research Station. March 13. 19 attendees.
-LSU AgCenter Rosepine Research Station. May 6. 58 attendees.
-Pasture Walk at Mr. H. Gonsoulin’s farm. May 8. 27 attendees.
-Forage-Fed Beef Workshop. Prairie Research Unit, Mississippi State University, Prairie, MS. October 22. 38 attendees.
-Pasture Walk at the Iberia Research Station. October 30. 23 attendees.
-LSU AgCenter ACE Meetings (Dairy, Forages, Beef). Baton Rouge, LA. December 15. 31 attendees (Research and Extension Faculty).

2011
-SERA041 Multi-State Project Meeting; Corpus Christi, TX. February 6. 15 attendees (Research and Extension Faculty from SE United States).
-Acadiana Cattle Producers Spring Field Day at the Iberia Research Station; Jeanerette, LA. April 9. 89 attendees.
-Lafayette Advisory Committee Meeting and Field Day Planning; Lafayette, LA (Mr. Stan Dutile, County Agent). June 9. 14 attendees.
-Oak Creek Farm Field Day; Chappell Hill, TX. October 28. 32 attendees.
-New Orleans Agribusiness Council Meeting; New Orleans, LA. 16 attendees (including Dr. J. Gillespie). November 1.
-LSU AgCenter Beef ACE Meetings; Baton Rouge, LA. December 15. 21 attendees (Research and Extension Faculty).

2012
-SERA041 Multi-State Project Meeting; Corpus Christi, TX. February 6. 21 attendees (Research and Extension Faculty from SE United States).
-Pasture walk at Dr. F. Rodosta’s Ranch. March 17. 45 attendees
-Vermilion Parish Beef Cattle Advisory Committee. April 12. 22 attendees.
-Lafayette Parish Beef Cattle Advisory Committee. April 20. 16 attendees.
-Iberia Research Station Field Day. May 5. 89 attendees. Drs. Gillespie and Scaglia presented results of the present project.
-Workshop at the University of Lafayette at Cade. August 17. 51 attendees. Forages and forage-fed beef production in Louisiana.
-St. Martin Parish Meeting, Breaux Bridage, LA. December 14. 14 attendees.
-LSU AgCenter Annual Conference; Baton Rouge, LA. December 18. 24 attendees (Research and Extension Faculty).

2013
-SERA041 Multi-State Project Meeting; Orlando, TX. February 6. 23 attendees (Research and Extension Faculty from SE United States).
-Louisiana Forage and Grassland Council Annual Meeting. Workshop on “Forage-fed beef production in Louisiana” to be held on December 6, 2013. Alexandria, LA.

PUBLICATIONS (by type)
1) Master of Science thesis (Louisiana State University)
Published
Rodriguez, Jose M. 2012. Forage Systems for Finishing Steers in South Louisiana. School of Animal Sciences, Louisiana State University.

In preparation.
Bhandari, B. 2013. Mr. Basu Bhandari is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation, the content from the poster presentation listed above to be one of the chapters, which will be in the three journal-article format.

2) Abstracts in scientific meetings

Bhandari, Basu, J. Gillespie, G. Scaglia, and J. Wang. 2013. Analysis of Pasture Systems to Maximize the Profitability and Sustainability of Grass Fed Beef Production. Poster paper presented at the annual meetings of the Southern Agricultural Economics Association, Orlando, Florida.

Scaglia, G., J. Rodriguez, and H. T. Boland. 2012. Evaluation of three bermudagrass varieties for grazing and hay production. J. Anim. Sci. Vol. 90, Suppl. 1:86 (Abstr.).

Scaglia, G., J. Rodriguez, K. McMillin, G. T. Gentry, and H. T. Boland. 2011. Total fat and fatty acid composition of steaks from steers finished on three different forage systems in the Gulf Coast Region. J. Anim. Sci. Vol. 89, E-Suppl. 1: 317 (Abstr.).

Scaglia, G., J. Rodriguez, G. T. Gentry, K. McMillin, and J. Gillespie. 2011. Performance of beef steers finished on three forage systems in the deep south. Abstr. 64. So. Section ASAS Annual Meeting. February 6-8, Corpus Christi, TX.

Wang, J.J. S.K. Dodla, G. Scaglia and C. Jeong. 2010. Soil carbon distribution under different pasture systems and its relationship with greenhouse gas emissions. ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual International Meetings, October 31-Novemebr 3, Long Beach, California (Agronomy Abstr).

3) Peer-reviewed manuscripts in scientific Journals

Wang, J.J., S.K. Dodla, G. Scaglia, and C. Jeong. 2013. Greenhouse gas emissions from soils in different pasture production systems under subtropical climate. Journal of Environmental Quality (in preparation).

Scaglia, G., J. Gillespie, J.J. Wang, and J. Rodriguez. 2013. Evaluation of three forage systems for forage-fed beef production in the Southeastern United States. Agricultural Systems (in preparation).

Bhandari, B., J. Gillespie, G. Scaglia, and J. Wang. 2013. Analysis of Pasture Systems to Maximize the Profitability and Sustainability of Grass Fed Beef Production. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics (in preparation).

4) Extension publications

Scaglia, G. 2012. Evaluation of three bermudagrass hybrids for grazing and hay production in South Louisiana. Louisiana Agriculture Magazine. Pp. 6-8. Vol. 55, No. 3. Summer issue. Available at: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/communications/publications/agmag/Archive/2012/Summer/

Scaglia, G. 2012. Forage-fed beef composition: cholesterol, fats and fatty acids. LSU AgCenter Iberia Research Station Newsletter. Spring issue. Pages 1-3. Available at: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/our_offices/research_stations/Iberia/Features/newsletter/Iberia-Research-Station-Newsletter-2012.htm

Scaglia, G. 2011. Forage-fed beef composition: Vitamin A and E. LSU AgCenter Iberia Research Station Newsletter. Spring issue. Pages 1-2. Available at: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/our_offices/research_stations/Iberia/Features/newsletter/Spring2011Newsletter.htm

Scaglia, G. 2011. Issues to consider in forage-fed beef production. Part 3. In Louisiana Farm and Ranch. Vol. 7, No. 11:34-35. November issue.

Scaglia, G. 2011. Issues to consider in forage-fed beef production. Part 2. In Louisiana Farm and Ranch. Vol. 7, No. 8:28-29. August issue.

Scaglia, G. 2011. Issues to consider in forage-fed beef production. Part 1. In Louisiana Farm and Ranch. Vol. 7, No. 7:30-33. July issue.

Scaglia, G. 2010. Forage-fed beef production. LSU AgCenter Iberia Research Station Newsletter. Spring issue. Page 2. Available at: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/our_offices/research_stations/Iberia/Features/newsletter/Iberia-Research-Station-Newsletter-March-2010-.htm

5) Other resources produced
-Video produced by “This week in Louisiana Agriculture” (Mr. A. J. Sabine reports; Dr. G. Scaglia presenter; October 2012). “Forage systems for grass-fed beef production”. Available at: http://www.cattlenetwork.com/cattle-news/Forage-systems-for-grass-fed-beef-production-172867941.html

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Objective 1
A major impact is the demonstration that 1100 lb steers can be produced with these forage systems. The use of legumes helped reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizer, reducing inputs and costs for systems using this advantage. Gradually, more producers are engaging into the forage-fed beef niche market. This activity may evolve in the near future into a new local industry for the region.

Objective 2
These results indicate that grazing with different pasture systems likely has different impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, although the short term soil carbon change was not observed during the project time. This observation suggests that grazing pasture systems will likely incur different valuing based on carbon credit.

Objective 3
To date, the economics portion of the project has been presented to producers at an Iberia Research Station Field day, where extensive discussion by farmers showed strong interest in the results. The discussion centered on “where we are now” based upon survey results and “where should we go” in order to expand the industry. The results were also well-received at the 2012 Southern Agricultural Economics Association annual meetings, where a poster on the topic won first place in the poster paper competition.

Economic Analysis

Results of the grass-fed beef producer surveys provided an overview of the structure of Gulf Coast grass-fed beef production. We contacted 28 grass-fed beef producers from throughout the Gulf Coast region requesting interviews. Ten producers agreed to be surveyed, all in Louisiana. Results showed that the “average” producer devoted 104 acres to the beef operation, and beginning weight for forage finishing was 501 pounds with slaughter weight of 907 pounds at 22 months of age. The average farmer age was 48 years, and the farmer had been involved in cattle production for an average of 15 years. Most of the beef was sold to local individuals (69%), followed by independent grocers (24%). Most of the advertising was via websites, followed by word-of-mouth. Most of the farmers began forage-finishing in the Fall, and some grazed with multiple animals species, including chickens, pigs, and horses. No growth stimulates were used, with some forage-feeding intact males. Most vaccinated their cattle. Rotational grazing systems were standard, with varying intensity as to the rotation schedule. A wide variety of pasture forages were used, with various permanent pastures and ryegrass being standard, but also in some cases including one or more of the following: cowpeas, deer forage mix, oats, pearl millet, sorghum sudan, various clovers, vetch, and others. About half of the producers held off-farm jobs. A variety of cattle breeds were used, with Angus and red Angus crosses being the most common. Most sourced at least some of their finishers from calves they produced on their farms. We found, however, that the wide range of production and marketing practices used made provision of “average” cost and returns estimates challenging. Some rarely rotated their animals while others rotated more than once daily, and forage types varied significantly among farms.

Results of the economic analysis of the Iberia Research Station study showed the following, as shown in Table 3.

• Steer income did not differ among the treatments.
• Hay income was highest for System 1 (bermudagrass in the summer and ryegrass in the winter) and lowest for System 3 (the most intensive system, with bermudagrass, sorghum sudan, and soybean in the summer and ryegrass, rye, clover mix, and dallisgrass in the winter).
• Fertilizer expense for System 1 was greater than for Systems 2 and 3. This was due to higher use of N-fixing legumes in Systems 2 and 3, which substituted for commercial N fertilizer.
• Seed cost differed among the systems with the lowest in System 1 and highest in System 3. This was due to the diversity of forages in System 3 as opposed to only bermudagrass and ryegrass in System 1.
• Diesel cost was higher in System 1 primarily because of the greater use of machinery for hay cutters and balers.
• Total direct expense did not differ among the systems, the major reasons being relatively high fertilizer and diesel costs in System 1 and higher seed and pesticide costs in System 3.
• As shown in Figure 11, net profits per steer were $678, $597 and $367 for Systems 1, 2, and 3, respectively, with the net profits of Systems 1 and 2 being significantly greater than for System 3.

Global warming potential in terms of kg CO2 equivalent per year for each system was determined. Results showed that System 3 produced the lowest global warming potential per animal; System 1 produced the highest (Table 4, Figure 12). Due to the higher use of nitrogen fertilizer, CO2 produced through NPA, CH4 F, and NO2 F was highest in System 1, which contributed to the highest GWP relative to the other pasture systems. Results show that the following trade-offs can be made:

• System 2 versus System 1: System 2 had 3,814 kg lower CO2 equivalent GWP than System 1. Although net profit was lower in System 2, it was not statistically different from System 1. Since System 2 had lower CO2 equivalent, it may dominate System 1.
• System 3 versus System 1: System 3 had $320 lower net profit and 5458 kg lower CO2 equivalent GWP than System 1. If CO2 equivalent were valued at $0.06/kg, then Systems 1 and 3 would be economically equivalent.
• System 3 versus System 2: System 3 had $230 lower net profit and 1644 kg lower CO2 equivalent GWP than System 2. If CO2 equivalent were valued at $0.14/kg, then Systems 2 and 3 would be economically equivalent.

Farmer Adoption

This Project reached several hundreds of producers based on the number that attended the different outreach activities. Traditionally, field days are those activities that have allowed us to reach the most producers, but pasture walks were those that permitted a closer discussion/exchange of facts or ideas with the producers. Testimonials from Agents (Mr. Dutile and Mr. Granger) that closely worked with Dr. Scaglia indicated that there has been a clear increase in the number of producers working on stocker/finishing. More requests (in number and frequency) for information to understand the principles of rotational stocking as well as of intensive beef cattle management have been observed. Similarly, new enterprises have started with the objective of producing forage-fed beef. One of them, Dr. S. Gonsoulin, opened an outlet (article from a local magazine is attached together with his letter) in a small nearby town to sell his locally-produced forage-fed beef. Finally, several local producers have asked for assistance about a blueprint as to steps to follow to become forage-fed beef producers. This demand was not present five years ago. This project also served to demonstrate some practices that might be not profitable or difficult to execute for producers. Hay feeding is expensive despite the general idea of producers. It is expensive to produce, to avoid spoiling (appropriate storage facilities should be recommended), to feed (a lot of wastage is possible), among other issues including the low animal performance especially in young growing cattle. During the pasture walks, these issues were addressed and fruitful discussions and exchange of opinions were obtained. Balage production from summer grasses was also discussed in general terms due to the difficulty to dry materials that produce a lot of mass per acre. For example, for sorghum-sudan hybrids in the Gulf Coast where high humidity and frequent rains are a reality, considering the cost of the equipment needed, the recommendation was not to pursue this practice.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

In order to better determine the impact of any forage system on C sequestration or accumulation, a longer project time will likely allow us a better calculation of this parameter. Considering the current market with relatively few grass-fed beef producers, forage systems evaluated in this Project are suitable for the region. These are not the only forages that are adapted to the environment. The evaluation of some high nutritive summer legumes may also prove to be effective to complement (in quality and extending the grazing season) annual summer grasses such as sorghum-sudan hybrids. Another area to study would be the evaluation of management practices such as stockpiling that may result in increasing the number of grazing days, hence reducing even more (compared to this project) the period of hay feeding. Another issue that would need further research is the evaluation of animal biotypes (tropically adapted breeds or other adapted crossbred cattle) that are adapted to the heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast region (as the biotype use in this Project) but that that can deliver a carcass with attributes closer to what is demanded by the traditional beef consumer. If this can be accomplished, forage-fed beef may become a different product that will surpass the category of niche market. The other side of the coin of becoming a “mainstream” product is that prices paid today for forage-fed beef may decrease, hence changing the production parameters that exist today. Finally, from the standpoint of production of forage-fed beef, a continuous flow of the product to the market might be secured. This may be accomplished by producing beef from fall and spring born animals, addition of females (not used as replacements) to the system, as well as increasing the range of age at harvest. Significant study is also needed on the provision of competitive harvest and processing facilities and the distribution of the product to restaurants and retail stores in Southern Louisiana. At this time, most of the forage-fed beef produced in Southern Louisiana is marketed directly to consumers, but discussions with restaurant owners suggest interest in locally-produced beef, some of which would be 100% forage-fed.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.