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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: rye, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: no-till, conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Producers in the Gulf Coast 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 (CattleFax, 2007). 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 US, 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 (DeRamus, 2004). 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 their 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. Our objective is to evaluate the impact of three no-till forage systems that differ in the intensity of resources used on (1) productivity, (2) carbon balance, and (3) economics. Sustainability of these systems will be evaluated for increased soil quality and carbon sequestration. Soil quality improvement is essential for maintaining and enhancing soil productivity of land for agricultural sustainability. On the other hand, a gain in soil carbon from a baseline through a specific forage system would also increase the value of land as the sequestered C could be traded in various open markets. It is hypothesized that different forage species composition along with cattle grazing activities in selected systems cause different interactions that yield different soil quality, carbon transformation characteristics, and therefore productivity. This evaluation will generate information for beef cattle producers in the region from different angles: those looking for a year-round forage system that will allow them to produce forage fed beef, the economics of this system, and the impact of management practices on carbon sequestration. Our project will provide comprehensive information on management practices, economics and carbon trading that will close a gap of missing information needed by producers, extension agents, community businesses, and other clientele.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    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.

    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.