Maximizing profitability, sustainability, and carbon sequestration of no-till forage systems for finishing beef cattle in the Gulf Coast region
The first year data are already summarized. The second grazing season is undergoing the evaluation of the three forage systems. Animal performance has been better this year. Soil profile carbon up to 1 meter has been characterized. CO2 and CH4 flux measurements have been periodically performed. Production records are forwarded to the economists and analysis are being conducted. From the estimates, determination of required carbon credit to entice adoption is developed for each strategy. This year outreach activities were diverse: pastures walks, workshop, and producers’ visits to the Station, increasing the visibility of this project around the region.
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.
Forage mass and height (Figures 1 and 2) as well as crude protein and neutral detergent fiber concentration (Figures 3 and 4) were above the steers’ requirements in all 3 systems (S1, S2, and S3) except between the 2 vertical lines (Figures 1 and 2), the graph that denotes the time when hay produced in each system was fed. Average daily gains for S1, S2, and S3 for the whole grazing season (1.4, 1.27, and 1.23 lb) and winter period (3.31, 3.39, and 3.36 lb) were not different (P > 0.05) between systems. Summer ADG was different (P = 0.04) between systems and lower than expected. Steers in S1 gained more than those grazing on S3 (0.64 vs. 0.38 lb/d) while those on S2 were intermediate (0.43 lb/d). In April 2010, 18 steers (6 per treatment) were harvested in a commercial abattoir. Animals were transported from the Iberia Research Station in 3 loads (6 steers in each; 2 steers per treatment) in 3 consecutive weeks. Animals were placed in pens and harvested in the early afternoon hours. Trained personnel from the School of Animal Sciences (Meat Science) were present at the time of harvest, proceeded to data collection and took rib/steak samples for further analysis. Hot carcass weight, fat thickness, ribeye area, kidney pelvic and heart fat, and dressing percent were not different (P > 0.05) between systems. Data from the first grazing cycle are summarized in the attachment to this report. The second grazing season started on July 17, 2010 with 54 steers (18 steers/system; 3 replicates/system; 6 steers/replicate) that were purchased from the same single source as the previous year so they have the same genetic structure of 3/8 Gelbvieh, 3/8 Red Angus, and ¼ Brahman. Their average BW at the beginning of the experiment was 545 lb. Those steers in System 1 remained on bermudagrass all summer and during hay feeding until ryegrass was available. Steers in System 2 had access in the Fall to dallisgrass/clover pastures for 30 days with the rest of the time on bermudagrass. Those in System 3 grazed sorghum-sudangrass and also the forage soybeans for 61 days. Unfortunately the stand of both forages was not good due to excess rainfall at the time planting and prolong drought thereafter. Despite severe attacks of armyworms (there was a record population of armyworms in bermudagrass in Louisiana this past summer) hay was produced from all 3 systems (450 round bales). Winter forages were planted in late September. This gave the chance to start grazing on these forages earlier than the previous year (15 days). Pure stands of ryegrass were not adequate and needed replanting (System 1) in mid-November. Systems 2 and 3 got the benefit of berseem clover which provided most of the diet for the grazing steers during the months of January and February. Warmer days in March are allowing for ryegrass to make the final “push” towards greater dry matter production. In late April or early May, steers from this cycle will be harvested, carcass information and samples collected.
It is estimated that 75% of objective 2 has been performed. In terms of the soil C profile, it was found that bermudagrass and dallisgrass + clover pastures had greater soil C content in the profile, especially in the top 10 cm, whereas the ryegrass and ryegrass + clover had generally smaller soil C content in the profile. The major difference between the systems was within 5 cm of the soil profile (Figure 1). Greenhouse gas emission was further evaluated by continuous monitoring different forage systems. The results of 18 month samplings showed that dallisgrass + clover pastures had on average more CO2-C and CH4-C emissions whereas bermudagrass had higher average nitrous oxide (as N2O-N) emissions (Figures 2-4). The latter was likely due to the nitrification-denitrification process resulting from usually heavy nitrogen fertilization. Regression analysis showed stronger relation of emission rates of CO2, CH4 and N2O with soil C content in the top 2.5 cm depth of the profile across different pasture systems. Soil C content accounts for 36% variation in CH4, 24% in CO2, and only 11% in for N2O emission rates, respectively.
Interviews with forage-fed beef producers in the Southeast have begun and are currently ongoing. We hope to have conducted 20 interviews by June, 2011, though this will depend upon willingness of the remaining farmers to participate. Collection of input use data for the field experiment is ongoing, with Year 1 data currently being analyzed to determine input requirements such as machinery, labor, and variable inputs. Work that remains includes: (1) completing farmer interviews, (2) developing the southeastern U.S. forage-fed beef budget based upon results of the farmer interviews, (3) continued analysis of field experiment input usage, (4) partial budgeting analysis year/field plot using the forage-fed beef budget and associated economic analysis of the carbon sequestration results, and (5) write-up of the final results. An M.S. student will be hired in Fall, 2011, to conduct much of the analysis required for (3)-(5).
On October 22, 2010, Drs. Guillermo Scaglia and Holly T. Boland, who is a collaborator on the present Grant from Mississippi State University (MSU), organized a “Forage Fed Beef Production” Workshop at the Prairie Unit, Prairie, MS with the support of MSU, LSU AgCenter and the Grazing Land Conservation Initiative. Also invited was Dr. Allen Williams (TallGrass Beef). Thirty producers and NRCS personnel attended the Workshop. Dr. Scaglia presented information related with forage resources in the Southeast as well as grazing considerations to produce forage fed beef. He finished the presentation with the summary of the first year data generated by the present grant. Dr. Williams gave the industry perspective, marketing strategies and reasons for the increasing demand for forage fed beef. The Workshop concluded with lunch provided by the Prairie Unit (Dr. H. Boland).
Activities at the Iberia Research Station (IRS) have been a success from the standpoint of people’s interest and comments. Several producers were present at the Pasture Walk (October 30, 2010) at the IRS. In this visit, the forage systems for forage fed beef production were visited (4 stops on different pastures) and management considerations of pastures and animals were discussed. Visits of individual producers working on forage fed beef production as well as others who are thinking about doing it to the IRS have increased in number and, needless to say, the visibility of the project has increased as well. The NRCS, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, and Cattle Producers of Louisiana have been extremely supportive of this project. Some of NRCS’ personnel have also been involved in the outreach activities.
Two abstracts were presented with preliminary information of this project. The first one (312-11: Soil carbon distribution under different pasture systems and its relationship with greenhouse gas emissions) by Dr. J. Wang and associates at the ASA-CSSA Meetings in Long Beach, CA; the second one (64: Performance of beef steers finished on three forage systems in the deep south) by Dr. Scaglia et al. at the ASAS Southern Section Meeting in Corpus Christi, TX. A second abstract (Total fat and fatty acid composition of steaks from steers finished on three different forage systems in the Gulf Coast Region) by Dr. Scaglia et al. was accepted and will be presented in the ASAS-ADSA Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA this summer.
On April 9, 2011, a Field Day will be organized by the IRS and the present work will be highlighted by Dr. Scaglia. Traditionally, approximately 100 producers attend this type of event. More information about it will be provided in next year’s report.
We are getting the second year of data collection which for objective 1 and 3 will conclude with the harvest of this year’s animals. Objective 2 calls for monthly data collection and will continue as until the submission of the present report.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Data collected in Objective 1 provided producers and extension agents (LSU AgCenter, NRCS) alike valuable information on this topic. Producers got first hand information on production and economics of forage fed beef, understanding the needs in terms of forages, facilities, management decisions, marketing, and quality of the product.
The research proposed in Objective 2 helped to develop management strategies for better soil carbon management. In addition, it helped producers to take the decision of adopting strategies of forage management to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the southern USA.
Economic results of this analysis benefited producers in the Southern Region in at least two ways. First, cost and return estimates helped producers who are interested in becoming involved in forage-fed beef production, as well as other interested parties. Second, analysis of the economics of the three grazing strategies provided potential forage-fed beef producers with information as to grazing systems they can use to maximize profit.
Baton Rouge, LA
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Foster Land and Cattle
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