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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: New Technologies to Enhance Sustainability of Northern Great Plains Grasslands

Location: Natural Resource Management Research

2013 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
1) Develop low-cost techniques such as targeting grazing, fecal seeding, and cold-tolerant species seeding to modify or restore grassland vegetation; to extend forage quality into late summer, fall, and winter in the northern Great Plains; and improve grazing land productivity. (Objective A.1; NP215 Action Plan). 2) Improve production of yearling cattle and the healthfulness of their meat products in the northern Great Plains by improving producers’ ability to anticipate and respond to adverse environmental conditions by developing tools integrating long-term regional data on cattle growth, meat quality, supplementation, and climatic factors. (Objective A.2; NP215 Action Plan). 3) Develop more effective guidelines and affordable tools for the northern Great Plains for monitoring and managing livestock forage use and selecting conservation practices based on improved integration of field and remote sensing information. (Objective B.2; NP215 Action Plan). 4) Develop improved or modify existing ecologically based decision-support tools to aid land managers in selecting utilization, conservation and restoration strategies for hay and grazing lands in mixed-land use areas of the Great Plains. (Objective E.2; NP215 Action Plan).

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Expanding human populations and biofuel production will require increased livestock production from existing grasslands. Increased production will come from improving the resource base and making cattle production less reliant on grain and more efficient at converting forage to meat. Because of societal expectations regarding sustainable use of natural resources, increases in livestock production must be balanced with the appropriate application of new technology to monitor and manage productivity and ecological health of grazing and hay-producing lands. This project will fill significant information gaps identified by livestock producers, land managers and action agencies as priority needs for managing forage and grazing lands. We will: 1) develop new techniques to improve abundance of cold-tolerant and palatable forbs and shrubs in grassland vegetation and extend forage quality into colder seasons; 2) determine relationships between climatic variations and livestock weight gains to improve production and reduce risk; 3) make more effective use of remote sensing information from plot and landscape levels to efficiently select conservation practices and manage livestock use of grazing resources; and 4) develop improved tools to aid public and private managers in selecting conservation and restoration strategies to improve the productivity and sustainability of hay, pasture and rangelands. Benefits from our research will include: improved productivity of cattle and profitability of cattle production, improved grassland management by public and private land managers, and new tools for monitoring and managing livestock forage use and for selecting and implementing conservation practices on grazing lands.

3. Progress Report:
Objective 1: Baseline data were collected on experimental pastures at the Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory and grazing treatments with cow-calf pairs were initiated for the targeted grazing study. Several in vitro evaluations of coated and non-coated seeds were conducted in the laboratory. Objective 2: Cattle weight gain and weather data for the Cheyenne and Mandan historic long-term grazed pastures were compiled, analyzed and manuscripts written and submitted for publication. Objective 3: Variation in mixed-grass prairie structural attributes (standing crop mass and canopy height) and spectral vegetation indices was measured at the Grand River National Grassland near Lemmon, South Dakota. Biomass measurements were made at peak and senescent time periods (early July and mid-October, respectively). Objective 4: Plant diversity sampling and rangeland health evaluations were completed at eight sites at the Central Plains Experimental Range near Nunn, CO and eight sites at the Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, MT. At each location, we were able to sample both grazed sites and ungrazed rangeland in long-term (20 to 30 years) exclosures. Preliminary analysis of data from previously samples sites in North and South Dakota have revealed a negative relationship between the degree of invasion by exotic cool-season grasses and native plant diversity. These relationships will be explored further with additional data from 2013.

4. Accomplishments

Review Publications
Reeves, J.L., Derner, J.D., Sanderson, M.A., Peterson, M.L., Vermeire, L.T., Hendrickson, J.R., Kronberg, S.L. 2013. Temperature and precipitation affect steer weight gains differentially by stocking rate in northern mixed-grass prairie. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66(4):438-444.

Reeves, J.L., Derner, J.D., Sanderson, M.A., Petersen, M.K., Vermeire, L.T., Hendrickson, J.R., Kronberg, S.L. 2013. Seasonal temperature and precipitation effects on cow-calf production in northern mixed-grass prairie. Livestock Science. 155:355-363.

Last Modified: 05/29/2017
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