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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #424215

Research Project: Multifunctional Farms and Landscapes to Enhance Ecosystem Services

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

2014 Annual Report


1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
1: Identify, through experimentation and plant growth and habitat modeling, pasture-based dairy and livestock production systems and management practices that improve food security by enhancing productivity, improving long-term environmental sustainability, and increasing flexibility to adapt to changing environmental and climatic conditions. We will initially delineate current land-use practices for grazing lands in the eastern US and investigate how land use might change in the future (sub-objective 1.A). Primary land use practices to be considered are pasture-based animal agriculture and bioenergy feedstock production systems. Sub-objective 1B will characterize potential changes in forage species distribution and dairy cow grazing behavior in response to climate change (adaptation), and evaluate plant and animal management strategies to mitigate climate change. Sub-objective 1.C will identify conservation practices and animal management strategies that improve nutrient utilization efficiency and reduce sediment and nutrients movement off-farm. 2: Develop best management practices and identify management systems that improve productivity and environmental sustainability of bioenergy production as part of multifunctional agricultural systems. Objective 2 focuses on bioenergy cropping systems and will identify management systems that increase soil C sequestration and reduce N loss and net GHG emissions (sub-objective 2.A) and evaluate the effects of miscanthus production at the commercial scale on C sequestration and GHG intensity (sub-objective 2.B). Sub-objective 2B will also include a life-cycle inventory assessment to profile the energy and GHG emissions associated with miscanthus production. Objective 3. Improve dairy industry production capacity and environmental sustainability to meet the demands of existing and emerging markets, and improve dairy industry resilience to abiotic and biotic stressors while maintaining producer economic viability. Using a comprehensive, systems approach along with existing/new databases and models to identify opportunities and support Livestock GRACEnet, LTAR and Climate Hub efforts to improve the environmental performance of dairy systems across the Northeast, Midwest, and West. The following research focus areas will be prioritized: a) Improve nutrient use efficiency across dairy production, emphasizing the conservation of nitrogen and phosphorus in local and regional crop production and reduction of off-farm nitrogen and phosphorus losses, especially through novel/greater use of forage crops and innovative practices. b) Improve carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy cattle, production facilities and land application of manure. c) Improve the understanding of pathogen transport and control through water and/or bioaerosol pathways.


1b. Approach (from AD-416):
This research will provide the necessary information for developing decision-support tools that bring together diverse forage production systems, innovative animal management strategies and novel biofuel production practices to build multifunctional farms and landscapes. The purpose is to provide guidance on optimizing the placement and management of pasture and bioenergy crops in ways that are appropriate to the landscape context and that will increase productivity and enhance ecosystem services of farming enterprises. We will initially delineate current land-use practices for grazing lands in the eastern US and investigate the production and environmental consequences of potential future management changes. Primary land-use practices to be considered are pasture-based animal agriculture and bioenergy feedstock production systems. We will provide information on plant and animal adaptation to climate change and on the effectiveness of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation strategies for grazing animals, pasturelands, and biofuel feedstock production systems. We will provide farm scale life cycle inventory (LCI) data on miscanthus and identify water quality and GHG impacts of switchgrass and miscanthus production on marginal lands We will also assess the effects of grazing management and manure application strategies on nutrient movement and water quality as part of the pasture component of the national Grazing Lands Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). Results will fill gaps in our knowledge of management practices that increase resilience to climate change, improve conservation of soil and water resources, and reduce GHG emissions. Successful completion of this project will 1) increase farm productivity, 2) improve adaptation to climate change and 3) provide targeted conservation practices to enhance ecosystem services.


3. Progress Report:
Under 1.A.1. Methods for quantitative hierarchical site type delineation have been developed and published (Goslee et al., 2014), and have been applied to the entire continental United States. Under 1.A.2. Crop production estimates and dairy ration information have been combined using mathematical optimization methods to understand the role of land use decisions in dairy production. Methods are being developed for other agricultural types. Under 1.B.1. The most common forage species in the northeastern United States have been modeled and mapped using three alternative methods, and a paper is being prepared. Under 1.B.2. Supplementing grazing dairy cows with kelp did not mitigate heat stress or improve milk production, but did increase milk iodine levels, which may be of concern to human health. Under 1.B.3. The annual crops and perennial grasses were harvested as scheduled for collecting biomass yield data; other management practices were completed as appropriate during growing season. Perennial pastures were grazed during the fall and spring then renovated due to loss of desired species. Data were provided to the national GRACEnet database. Under 1.B.4, a continuous culture fermenter study was conducted to evaluate the effects of alternative forages on ruminal fermentation and methane output of a pasture-based diet. Two manuscripts were submitted to Journal of Dairy Science. Under 1.C.1, in a study with grazing dairy cows, flaxseed supplementation did not affect milk production or milk fat, did not decrease methane emissions, but improved beneficial fatty acids in milk. Under 1.C.2. Runoff collection instruments were installed at two sites to begin collecting baseline water quality information. Nitrous oxide emissions were monitored following fertilizer applications and yield data were collected. Under 1.C.3, a second year of data collection for three grazing management strategies (continuous, rotational, and mob grazing) was completed at Virginia Tech University. Under 2.A.1. Water quality and soil N2O emissions data were collected regularly at the Mattern watershed. Biomass yield was determined at the end of the growing season. Under 2.A.2. Soil N2O emissions and biomass yield data were collected. Under 2.B.1. Shallow and deep soil core samples were processed and total C measured. Data for tillage and land use history effects on soil C were summarized.


4. Accomplishments


Review Publications
Orr, A.N., Soder, K.J., Hautau, M., Rubano, M.D., Moyer, B., Stout, R.C. 2014. Case study: dairies utilizing ultra-high stocking density grazing in Pennsylvania and New York. Professional Animal Scientist. 30:366-374.
Skinner, R.H., Stewart, A.V. 2014. Narrow-Leaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.) selection to increase freezing tolerance. Crop Science. 54:1238-1242.
Koide, R. T., Nguyen, B.T., Skinner, R.H., Dell, C.J., Peoples, M.S., Adler, P.R., Drohan, P.J. 2014. Biochar amendment of soil improves resilience to climate change. Global Change Biology Bioenergy. DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.12191.
Nguyen, B.T., Koide, R.T., Drohan, P.J., Skinner, R.H., Dell, C.J., Adler, P.R., Nord, A.N. 2014. Turnover of soil carbon pools following addition of switchgrass-derived biochar to four soils. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 78:531-537.
Goslee, S.C., Veith, T.L., Skinner, R.H., Comas, L.H. 2013. Optimizing ecosystem function by manipulating pasture community composition. Basic and Applied Ecology. 14:630-641.
Egan Jr, J.F., Bohnenblust, E., Goslee, S.C., Mortensen, D.A., Tooker, J. 2014. Herbicide drift affects plant and arthropod communities. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 185:77-87.
Goslee, S.C., Sanderson, M.A., Spaeth, K., Herrick, J.E., Ogles, K. 2014. A new landscape classification system for monitoring and assessment of pastures. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 69:17A-21A.