Irrigated Pastureland Enhancement Program

2016 Annual 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:
Dan Macon
UC Cooperative Extension

Irrigated Pastureland Enhancement Program


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. In the first few months of this project, we have worked with our advisory group and producer partners on development activities.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  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/tradeoffs across a gradient of intensity of integrated pasture management strategies (stocking rate, rotational grazing, and nutrient and water management).
  3. Conduct on-ranch workshops at demonstration sites to highlight collaborate 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 and pastureland enhancement strategies, and participate in peer-to-peer information exchange.


  • In the first few months of this project, we held an advisory group team meeting, which included livestock and natural resources Extension advisors, UC Davis faculty, and producers.
  • The project team collaboratively developed site selection criteria for ranch demonstration sites (Objective 1) and survey sites (Objective 2).
  • We have developed a management form to document grazing, irrigation, and nutrient management practices at each demonstration and survey site (Objectives 1 and 2).
  • Project team members have identified rancher-cooperators across 7 eco-regions across northern California (Objectives 1 and 2).
  • Project team staff have begun drafting assessment protocols to measure agricultural productivity (forage production, water soluble carbohydrates), biodiversity (plant diversity, weedy cover), and soil services (infiltration, soil organic matter) at the ranch sites (Objective 2).
  • The project team has begun drafting workshop content and identified locations for the first year’s on-ranch workshops (Objective 3).
  • We have started collecting, cataloging, and drafting training and extension materials for the online hub repository, and for use at workshops (Objectives 3 and 4).

In the next year of this project, we will conduct field data collection at enrolled study sites, begin data analyses, host the first year’s workshops, and initiate online information hub development.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

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 500,000 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.


Steve Orloff

UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor/County Director
UC Cooperative Extension
1655 South Main Street
Yreka, CA 96097
David Lile

UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor/County Director
UC Cooperative Extension
707 Nevada Street
Susanville, CA 96130
Carissa Rivers

UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor
UC Cooperative Extension
1655 South Main Street
Yreka, CA 96097
Laura Snell

UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor
UC Cooperative Extension
202 West 4th Street
Alturas, CA 96101
Morgan Doran
UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor/County Director
UC Cooperative Extension
70 Cottonwood Street
Woodland, CA 95695
Office Phone: 5304002121