MANAGING FORAGE AND GRAZING LANDS FOR MULTIPLE ECOSYSTEM SERVICES
Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research
Title: Short- and Long-Term Economic Analysis of Forage Mixtures and Grazing Strategies
Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 15, 2010
Publication Date: May 17, 2010
Citation: Deak, A., Hall, M.H., Sanderson, M.A., Rotz, C.A. 2010. Short- and Long-Term Economic Analysis of Forage Mixtures and Grazing Strategies. Agronomy Journal. 102:1201-1209.
Interpretive Summary: Using forage mixtures in pasture management can result in improved forage yields and yield stability. Because mixtures are more difficult to manage than pure stands, farmers will only adopt them if there is a greater net profit. We used a whole-farm simulation model to evaluate the economics of altering forage mixtures and grazing strategies on a typical dairy farm of Pennsylvania. Specifically, we assessed the effect of grazing management based on canopy height or plant morphology and the effect of using pure grass stands and mixtures of two, three, five or seven grasses and legumes. Results showed that grazing management and pasture mixture affected overall farm net return. Grazing management based on canopy height rather than plant morphology criteria increased pasture production and net economic returns. The use of nitrogen fertilizer in pure stands of grass increased forage production both in the short- and long-term analysis but only increased net returns in the long run. Increasing mixture complexity increased net return both in the short- and long-term analyses. Furthermore, forage mixtures had smaller production risk. Consequently complex forage mixtures are a useful alternative for dairy pastures to manage forage production risks in dry years and thereby increase and stabilize annual net returns.
The use of complex forage mixtures (mixtures of more than three species) has been researched as a means to increase yield and sustain forage production in pastures of the northeastern USA. However, little research has focused on the economic impact of forage mixture complexity and grazing strategy on a whole farm scale. We used the Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM) to examine the short- and long-term economic returns of four pasture mixtures (two, three, five and seven species) and grass monocultures grazed according to plant morphology or canopy height criteria. Production data from a recent field experiment were used in 5- and 25-yr simulations of a representative dairy farm. For both 5- and 25-yr analyses, smaller pasture production in the morphology-based grazing treatment led to a decrease in net return compared to the height-based grazing treatment. Both analyses showed that differences in net return among the different management scenarios were mainly due to seed, fertilizer cost, feed costs, pasture production, excess forage for sale, and the income generated by those sales. Production risk was smaller for the height-based grazing treatment compared to the morphology-based grazing treatment. Complex mixtures generated greater and more consistent net returns compared to either the simple mixtures or pure grass stands. More importantly, when comparing the difference in net return obtained by a particular forage treatment in dry and wet years, the net return using complex mixtures was reduced only by 25 to 27%. On the other hand, net return reductions ranged from 36% for a three species mixture up to 55% for pure grass stands. Complex mixtures are a useful alternative for pastures in dairy farms to manage forage production risks in dry years and thereby increase and stabilize annual net returns.