Evaluating Measurement Techniques of Pasture Productivity to Document Benefits of Enhanced Grazing Systems

Project Overview

LNC16-379
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $109,771.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Minnesota
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Rod Greder
University of Minnesota Extension

Information Products

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Abstract:

    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.

    Project objectives:

    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.

    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.