Submitted to: Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: December 7, 2003
Publication Date: December 10, 2003
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Goslee, S.C., Bryant, R.B., Tracy, B. 2003. Assessment and monitoring of grazing lands in the northeastern United States. Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands. 2:76-83. Interpretive Summary: Recent developments in grassland-based livestock production systems have created a need for new information on pasture and forage ecology and management including new methods of assessing and monitoring pastures. We summarize three assessment and monitoring research efforts completed during the last five years. The first is an assessment of plant species diversity on pastures of the northeastern USA, the second is an assessment of soil nutrient levels on northeastern grazing farms, and the third is an evaluation of the Pasture Condition Score system for integrating plant, soil, and grazing management factors for monitoring pastures. Our results showed that land resource degradation was not the principal cause of poor pasture condition. Instead, the data indicated that low forage diversity, and especially lack of legumes, along with low uniformity of use, were the driving factors. Increasing legume and forage diversity in most areas would improve general condition. The high agronomic levels of some soil nutrients indicate that soil nutrient levels must be monitored regularly on grazing farms.
Technical Abstract: Dependable technologies are needed to monitor grazing lands, to restore damaged systems, and to identify management practices that increase or maintain economic return while protecting the productive potential of grazed ecosystems. We summarize three pasture assessment and monitoring research efforts completed in the northeastern U.S. We conducted assessments of the vegetation and soil resources on grazing farms and then evaluated the Pasture Condition Score System as an integrator for monitoring pastures. In the vegetation assessment, we identified 269 plant species in a survey of 163 pastures on 39 farms. Bluegrass, white clover, orchardgrass, and tall fescue accounted for the majority of plant cover. About 40% of pastures sampled had high levels (according to agronomic criteria) of P and K in the top six inches of soil. These soil fertility levels suggest that producers who have intensified their grazing management must pay attention to nutrient management. Pasture condition scores indicated that about 17% of pastures required immediate changes in management to improve sustainability, whereas most pastures required some improvement or only minor changes in management. The relatively low rating for legume content across all pastures suggests that producers should focus management on establishing and maintaining legumes.