Irrigated Pastureland Enhancement Program

Project Overview

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:
Dan Macon
UC Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine, sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: irrigation, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal 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 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. Sustainability and Benefits to Agriculture California’s irrigated pastureland—which includes valley, foothill, and mountain meadow pastures— accounts for nearly 500,000 acres across the state, and ranks third among agricultural water users. Water scarcity issues for these integrated systems will likely increase with predicted increases in drought frequency, severity, and extent—as well as growing water demands from high value crops, urban, and environmental uses. Therefore, enhancing adoption of sustainable management strategies and efficiency of inputs on irrigated pasturelands is critical to farming and ranching economic viability, environmental quality, and supply of socially valued goods and services. The proposed project will be the launch pad for a new program on irrigated pasture enhancement strategies that address these important issues. Integrated Research and Education Objectives Our overall goal is to provide research and education activities producers and professionals can use to enhance irrigated pastureland management for economic and environmental outcomes. The proposed project will use a participatory research approach, which ensures relevance and credibility of project results as well as integrates technical, experiential, and social learning pathways. The objectives of this project are 1) develop demonstration pasture management studies (demonstration sites) on 5 core ranches; 2) conduct a cross-sectional, observational field survey of 25 ranches to quantify agricultural and environmental benefits and tradeoffs across a gradient of intensity of integrated pasture management strategies; 3) conduct on-ranch workshops to highlight collaborative research findings, manager expertise and experience, and best management practices; and 4) develop an online information hub that enables users to access information and tools on best practices and pastureland enhancement strategies, and participate in peer-to-peer information exchange.  Producer Outreach, Education, and Adoption Producer outreach and education is central to our overall project goal and objectives. Educational outreach will be accomplished through participatory on-ranch research, field workshops, and the online information hub. Project products (e.g., peer-reviewed journal articles, presentations, fact sheets, and policy briefs) will be available via face-to-face field workshops and the online hub, which will also include printable versions. Our participatory and multi-pronged research and education approach greatly enhances potential for producer adoption. We will continually evaluate usefulness and adoption of project outcomes and products via feedback from collaborating producers and field workshop attendees, as well as online feedback via the information hub. Our project team has substantial experience in conducting effective research, outreach, and extension with ranching and farming communities. We have successfully employed several cross-sectional, observational surveys to evaluate complex issues (see PI resume). We have also held many successful outreach and education events on grazing lands issues (see examples on, which have drawn as many as 700 participants to a single event.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Develop demonstration pasture management studies (demonstration sites) on 5 core ranches.

    At each core ranch, we will evaluate the importance of grazing height (intensity) on irrigated pasture plots (0.5 acres) at 3 grazing intensities (2-, 4-, and 6-inch heights; 3 replicates). These demonstration sites will link to ongoing trials examining the influence of fall defoliation height on the productivity of perennial grasses at the UC Intermountain Research & Extension Center (IREC)(Orloff and Lile, 2015). We will also conduct on-ranch, small-scale (200 ft2; 2-, 4-, and 6-inch heights; 3 replicates) clipping treatments to complement IREC trials. Treatments will be imposed summer/early fall 2017 and 2018. Agricultural (forage production, water soluble carbohydrates) and environmental outcomes (diversity, weedy cover, compaction/infiltration) will be monitored each growing season in collaboration with producers. We will disseminate results via workshops (Objective 3) and the online information hub (Objective 4).

    2. Conduct a cross-sectional, observational field survey of 25 ranches to quantify agricultural and environmental benefits/tradeoffs across a gradient of intensity of integrated pasture management strategies (stocking rate, rotational grazing, and nutrient and water management).

    For the field survey, all collaborators will help identify and lead enrollment of 1-5 ranches, based on their local networks. Sites will be selected summer 2016-spring 2017. Enrolled sites will be sampled spring and fall seasons between spring 2017 and spring 2019. We will use rapid assessment protocols to measure agricultural productivity (forage production, water soluble carbohydrates), biodiversity (plant diversity, weedy cover), and soil services (infiltration, soil organic matter). We will work with producers to quantify management (number/size of pastures, stock density, duration and timing of grazing/rest) and livestock productivity (acres/animal unit month). Results will be analyzed, interpreted, and disseminated via workshops (Objective 3) and the online hub (Objective 4).

    3. Conduct on-ranch workshops at demonstration sites to highlight collaborative research findings, manager expertise and experience, and best management practices.

    Workshops will showcase ongoing research results of the project, as well as enable producer-to-producer educational outreach. Between spring 2017 and spring 2019, we will conduct 5 spring/fall workshops with collaborating producers.

    4. Develop an online information hub that allows users to access information and tools on best practices and pastureland enhancement strategies, and participate in peer-to-peer information exchange.

    The online hub will extend the reach of research results, and provide additional venues for social learning and network building. The hub will provide a repository for printable fact sheets and policy briefs. We will begin hub development summer 2017. We will work with collaborators to determine information needs, delivery/format options, and design. We will beta test the hub with 20 producer partners in summer 2018. We will integrate feedback from all collaborators and release the full version of the hub spring 2019.

    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.