Pasture, Forage, Turf and Range Land Systems
Goal: Develop and transfer economically viable and environmentally sustainable production and conservation practices, technologies, plant materials and integrated management strategies, based on fundamental knowledge of ecological processes, that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay and turf lands.
Importance of Pasture, Forage, Turf and Range Lands
Our Nation's grass and shrub lands including range, pastures, hay and turf lands provide forages, open spaces and ecological services that contribute significantly to our agricultural, environmental, economic, and social well-being. Rangeland, pasture, and forages together comprise about 55% of the total land surface of the United States, about a billion acres. Privately owned lands comprise about 45% of this total, or about 640 million acres. These lands represent the largest and most diverse land resources in the U.S. Rangelands and pastures include the annual grasslands of California, the tundra rangelands of Alaska, the hot arid deserts of the Southwest, the temperate deserts of the Pacific Northwest, the semiarid cold deserts of the Great Basin, the prairies of the Great Plains, the humid native grasslands of the South and East, and the pastures and hay lands within all 50 states from Hawaii to Maine and Alaska to Florida.
The Nation’s 30 million acres of turf lands are found around our homes, schools, municipal and commercial buildings, in our parks, greenbelts and recreational areas, and along our roadsides, airports and right-of-ways. These lands contribute to our well-being in many ways including beautifying our towns and cities, enhancing property values, providing vital environmental services and contributing to the economy an estimated $40 billion a year.
These lands are the primary forage base for our livestock grazing industry in the U.S. and are utilized by more than 60 million cattle and millions of sheep and goats. Forage-livestock systems are the foundation of an industry that contributes more than $70 billion in farm sales annually to the U.S. economy. The estimated value of hay production alone is $11 billion, our third most valuable crop to U.S. agriculture, behind only corn and soybeans. The publicly owned rangelands in the western U.S. are also important, providing forage on 260 million acres for 3 million beef cattle and sheep. Nearly 70% of dietary protein and 40% of dietary calories for the U.S. population are of animal origin, and forage resources are crucial for sustained production of our animal-based products.
The functions of these lands are of increasing importance as watersheds and as habitat for a set of biologically diverse plants and animals. Maintaining adequate supplies of clean water for urban areas, irrigated agriculture, and environmental needs is a critical function of rangeland, pasture, and forage-producing ecosystems. Rangelands and pastures also provide forage and habitat for numerous wildlife species, including 20 million deer, 500,000 pronghorn antelope, 400,000 elk, and 55,000 feral horses and burros. Associated with these functions is an array of additional demands placed on these natural resources, including camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, and other recreational activities. This multitude of uses--from grazing lands to watersheds, critical habitats, and recreational areas--require an improved understanding of basic ecological processes and the effect on these processes on grazing, livestock production, and management practices.
Science-based solutions to these needs must be economically viable, socially acceptable and enhance the environment. The overall goal of this national program is to provide the appropriate technologies and management strategies to sustain our rangelands and pastures.
Harvested and conserved forages provide a dietary resource for continuity of livestock production. This is especially important during periods of cold or drought when nutrient-rich plants are not available. Harvested and conserved forages also provide an important source of roughage and nutrients for dairy cattle in confined animal feeding operations. To meet this demand, nearly 200 million tons of forage crops are harvested each year from 73 million acres in the U.S., which is 24% of the cropland. About one-half of these crops provide the forage requirements of dairy cattle. The remainder, along with rangeland and pasture, supplies the forage needs of beef cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and other livestock.
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