Irrigated Pastureland Enhancement Program

Final report for OW16-013

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2016: $49,774.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2019
Grant Recipient: UC Davis
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Co-Investigators:
Dan Macon
UC Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

Irrigated pasturelands are at the nexus of integrated plant and animal production. Until very recently, these agricultural landscapes have been overlooked in terms of integrated management, production potentials, and environmental benefits. These critical land resources allow livestock producers to meet annual forage demands for their operations, offer flexibility to accommodate annual grazing constraints on public land grazing allotments, and provide short-term alternative forage sources in years with below average precipitation. Irrigated pastures are especially important to sustaining economic viability of livestock operations during drought years when productivity of dryland resources is severely reduced.

Project Objectives:
  1. Develop demonstration pasture management studies (demonstration sites).
  2. Conduct a cross-sectional field survey of ranches to quantify agricultural and environmental outcomes across a gradient of intensity of integrated pasture management strategies.
  3. Conduct on-ranch workshops at demonstration sites to highlight collaborative research findings, manager expertise and experience, and best management practices.
  4. Develop an online information hub that allows users to access information and tools on best practices.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Morgan Doran
  • David Lile
  • Steve Orloff
  • Carissa Rivers
  • Laura Snell
  • Danny Eastburn (Researcher)
  • Josh Davy
  • Betsy Karle

Research

Materials and methods:
  1. Develop demonstration pasture management studies (demonstration sites).
  • Evaluate the importance of grazing height (intensity) on irrigated pasture plots at 4 harvest intensities (<1, 2-, 4-, and 6-inch heights; 3 replicates), which reflect the range of regional practices. These demonstration sites (5 on-ranch sites) link to trials examining the influence of fall defoliation height on the productivity of perennial grasses at the UC Intermountain Research & Extension Center (IREC). Agricultural and environmental outcomes from harvest intensity treatments will be assessed.
  1. Conduct a cross-sectional, observational field survey of working ranches to quantify agricultural and environmental outcomes across a gradient of intensity of integrated pasture management strategies.
  • Monitor enrolled pasture sites spanning a gradient of grazing, nutrient, and water management strategies. We selected and enrolled 33 pasture sites for demonstration infrastructure installation across Sacramento Valley-Bay/Delta (1 Placer, 2 Solano, 1 Tehama), Sierra Nevada foothill (4 Placer, 2 Nevada), and Intermountain/Mountain (5 Siskiyou, 5 Modoc, 8 Lassen, 3 Plumas, 2 Sierra) bioregions. This allowed us to appropriately capture variation that exists in pasture management, including grazing, water and nutrient management. Worked directly with producers to assess agricultural productivity, biodiversity, and soil health outcomes across the gradient of strategies.

Figure 1. Field crew member installs soil moisture monitoring infrastructure for baseline data collection. Photo Credit: Leslie Roche.

 

Figure 2. Field crew members work with local UC Cooperative Extension on demonstration site installation. Photo Credit: Leslie Roche.

Research results and discussion:

We measured standing crop, forage productivity, and forage utilization via the paired plot method. Plant diversity and weedy cover were recorded via ocular estimation. At a subset of sites, we also collected soil samples for analysis and monitored soil moisture contents at 6, 12, and 24 inch depths via volumetric water content and resistor blocks.

We have found evidence of micro-climatic effects interacting with grazing/harvest pressure, especially in colder areas with snowfall, with indications that higher defoliation pressure — lower plant height —reduces grass tiller production and impacts subsequent productivity. We are currently completing analysis for the whole suite of agricultural and environmental outcomes monitored to date, as well as continuing project monitoring for additional agricultural and environmental metrics (funded by California Department of Water Resources).

Participation Summary
23 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

60 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
5 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
5 Workshop field days
1 Created online information hub (http://rangelands.ucdavis.edu/irrigated-pasture) and nitrogen management app (http://rangelands.ucdavis.edu/ipnmp/).

Participation Summary

95 Farmers
40 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:
  1. Conduct on-ranch workshops at demonstration sites to highlight collaborative research findings, manager expertise and experience, and best management practices.
  • Four irrigated pasture workshops (June 2017 in Placer County, California; July 2017 in Siskiyou County, California; March 2018 in Solano County, California; in May 2018 in Butte County, California; October 2018 in Placer County, California) showcased current research and ongoing project results, as well as enabled producer-to-producer educational outreach.

 

Figure 3. Workshop participants exchange information with peers and discuss irrigated pasture best management practices at an on-ranch workshop (Placer County, California). Photo Credit: Daniel Macon.

 

Figure 4. Workshop participants discuss pasture management practices at an on-ranch workshop (Siskiyou County, California). Photo Credit: Leslie Roche.

Figure 5. Workshop participants discuss pasture management challenges with UC Davis and UC Cooperative Extension faculty at an on-ranch workshop (Placer County, California). Photo Credit: Leslie Roche.

 

  1. Develop an online information hub that allows users to access information and tools on best practices and pastureland enhancement strategies.

 

This work was featured in the December 2018 issue of Western Farmer-Stockman (“Getting greater pasture productivity”; available at https://www.farmprogress.com/livestock/getting-greater-pasture-productivity) and in the UC Rangelands Fall 2017 Newsletter, which reaches over 2000 subscribers (“Nitrogen App Created by UC Rangelands for Irrigated Pasture Managers”; http://rangelands.ucdavis.edu/uc-rangelands-fall-2017-newsletter). We have also developed educational fact sheets and presentation handouts from the project for field day participants (FieldDay_IREChandout; 20180529_IrrigatedPastureWorkshop), as well as provided supplemental educational materials (Pub-31-1005-Carrying-Capacity-and-Stocking-Rate; Pub-31-1008-Irrigated-Pasture).

Learning Outcomes

43 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • grazing management

  • nutrient management

  • irrigated pasture species

  • water management

  • invasive plant species

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Impacts

Irrigated pasture is a central land resource for many western livestock enterprises—particularly in California where the predominate annual, winter growing system leaves significant gaps in abundant, high quality forage. Irrigated pastureland accounts for nearly 800,000 acres across the state, and plays a keystone role in 50% of beef ranching operations. While annual rangelands typically provide 70% of the state’s forage base for rangeland beef cattle, during summer months these lands are dry and provide relatively low quality forage. This creates a critical forage gap during summer months, and potentially late spring and early fall during drought years. This gap is typically filled by moving cattle to irrigated pastures and mountain meadows. Social, environmental, and regulatory pressures will continue to challenge land managers as water scarcity issues continue. Furthermore, calls for government accountability for taxpayer investments in conservation programs are placing increasing emphasis on conservation outcomes such as biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

This project is the launch pad for a new, integrated program on irrigated pasture enhancement strategies to sustain production of agricultural goods and ecosystem services. We are working with producers across California to examine potential tradeoffs and benefits across a gradient of in-place management strategies. Currently, some experts estimate that irrigated pasture production is less than one-third of potential yields—and there are many outstanding questions on conservation values and ecosystem service benefits/costs provided by pasture management strategies. Taking a broad, comprehensive research approach is critical to answering these integrated agro-ecological questions.

Our stakeholder participatory research and education approach will integrate research results and local expertise and experience to provide credible guidance on implementation, effectiveness, and sustainability of best practices. Directly involving producers and land managers will be central to understanding and communicating goals and in-place adaptive management strategies to local, state and regional management communities.

To date, we have directly engaged 23 producers, who manage a total of 4,000 acres of irrigated pasture enrolled in this project. Participating producers have benefited in several ways. We have and will continue to share their individual ranch data with them. These data, as well as the on-ranch project visits, have provided opportunities for dialogue on management decision-making. We have also reached producers and natural resource management personnel through the local workshops and online Irrigated Pasture Management Hub. With new funding support from the California Department of Water Resources, we will continue to grow this project and audience impact via additional outreach and extension activities with specific focus on water use efficiency.

We have leveraged this project and successfully received funding ($297,518) from the California Department of Water Resources to continue building on this work.

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.