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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

You are here: ARS Home / Research / National Programs / National Program 205 : Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages / Program Rationale
National Program 205: Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages
Program Summary:
Program Rationale
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Publicly and privately owned range, pasture, and forage lands cover about 55% of the Nation's total land area. Found in all 50 states, these lands continue to contribute significantly to our agricultural, environmental, economic, and social well-being. The grazing and forages they provide are the foundation of the forage-livestock industry with its 60 million beef and dairy cattle and 8 million sheep that contribute more than $60 billion in farm sales annually. In addition, the annual $11 billion hay crop is the third most valuable crop after corn and soybeans. These highly diverse lands, extending from eastern pastures and hay fields to western prairies and deserts, provide habitat for an infinite variety of plant and animal life, including 20 million deer, 500,000 pronghorn antelope, 400,000 elk, and 55,000 feral horses and burros. Because of the vastness and diversity of range, pasture, and forage lands, they also play a vital role in providing open space, air and water quality, and an endless array of recreational opportunities. Despite the economic magnitude of the forage-livestock sector, it is highly dispersed. For example, more than a million farms and ranches are involved in beef and dairy cattle production, and 80% of these producers have fewer than a hundred head of cattle and calves while 34% have fewer than 20 head. Consequently, these producers frequently have very limited means to manage the complex mix of resource values found on their lands.

Managing these resource-rich but often fragile lands to meet the needs of a growing population and rapidly expanding economy is becoming increasingly challenging. Producers, land managers, and environmental regulators need improved plant materials, ecologically, based livestock production systems, and innovative decision-support and monitoring tools if they are to meet individual and national goals. The ARS has a network of 42 research locations in 31 states addressing rangeland, pasture and forage problems. This national network offers a unique research capability to provide the science-based information essential for achieving economically and environmentally sustainable uses of private and public range, pasture, and forage lands.


Last Modified: 5/14/2001
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