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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Booneville, Arkansas » Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center » Research » Research Project #433253

Research Project: Sustainable Small Farm and Organic Production Systems for Livestock and Agroforestry

Location: Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center

2019 Annual Report

This research will develop integrated strategies to manage multifunctional agricultural landscapes that include grazing livestock, grasslands, and woodlots for optimal economic and natural resource benefits. Holistic and systems type research by nature is complex, multifaceted, and difficult to implement, but also provides a unique opportunity to target knowledge gaps and problem solve issues that might not be apparent when evaluating individual commodities or singular agricultural applications. The interdisciplinary research team will take a multifaceted, interactive approach to complex system agriculture using our expertise in animal science, forestry, agronomy, and soil science to work towards the common goal of developing technologies useful to improve production and profitability of farmers. Objective 1: Determine best management practices and overall preferred production systems for growing trees and annual/perennial crops in similar and diverse landscapes on small farms in the South Central US that are either grazed or harvested for biomass production. Subobjective 1A: Develop knowledge on practices that affect herbage-tree productivity in intensively managed stands of pine and upland hardwoods. Sub-objective 1A.1: Evaluate effects of management practices on growth of pine and hardwood species. Sub-objective 1A.2: Document responses of alley-cropped herbage productivity as affected by plantation design. Subobjective 1B: Determine nutritive value of woody and herbaceous browse in an emulated organic silvopasture. Objective 2: Improve the efficiency, production capacity, and sustainability of integrated low-input forage and livestock producers in the South Central US and similar environmental areas around the world. Determine management practices to minimize off-farm inputs while enhancing production efficiency, soil health and fertility, and forage quantity and quality; determine best management practices for efficient nutrient use for pastures; and determine the long-term effects of improper grazing, rotational grazing, haying, and buffer strips on nutrient and sediment runoff from pastures in the South Central US. Subobjective 2A: Determine management practices for organic, grass-fed, and conventional livestock to minimize off-farm inputs while maximizing production and enhancing soil and forage attributes. Subobjective 2B: Determine best management practices for efficient nutrient use for pastures. Subobjective 2C: Determine the long-term effects of overgrazing, rotational grazing, haying, and buffer strips on nutrient and sediment runoff from pastures. Objective 3: Develop improved ruminant animal management systems to enhance the productivity, efficiency and viability of animal production on low input farms.

Sustainability will be achieved for small and mid-sized farms by increasing conventional, organic, and grass-fed beef cattle, sheep, and goat productivity on forage-based and silvopasture systems. The influence of conventional (strategic use of anthelmintics) and nonchemical (forages, including sericea lespedeza, and copper oxide wire particle administration) parasite control on production efficiency (number of lambs born and weaned per ewe) of sheep will be determined. Best management practices (management intensive grazing systems and forage combinations) will be determined for organic, grass-fed, and conventional beef and sheep production, on especially low input farms, to minimize off-farm inputs while maximizing production efficiencies and enhancing soil and forage attributes. Experiments will determine environmental impact of subsurface application of poultry litter on grass pastures. A long-term study utilizes watersheds to determine the impacts of various pasture management strategies (rotational grazing, overgrazing, haying, tree buffers) on pasture hydrology and nutrient runoff. Experiments will be conducted to evaluate effects of management practices, including fertilization and integration with livestock, on growth of pine and hardwood species. Responses of alley-cropped herbage productivity as affected by plantation design will be examined. The relative nutritive value of forages and trees in a bristly locust silvopasture will be determined.

Progress Report
This is a bridging project which replaced project 6020-21310-009-000D. New project is 6020-21310-011-00D. Research completed on multiple soil focused research projects using digital tools to improve soil predictions for improved soil management. Estimation methods using splines and weighted means were used to estimate values for missing data points which will help add more point data for model predictions of spatially explicit predictions of landscape scale soil properties. These soil properties can be grouped to provide farmers with management options tailored to their individual fields. Additional research has been completed that focuses on national scale soil health indicators such as soil carbon and pH. Geostatisitcal maps were completed to highlight natural conditions which favor soil carbon accumulation and soil carbon storage in addition to other soil health indicators. Research projects have been completed that specifically focus on methods to group individual rasters of soil properties into soil populations which will have similar function and therefore, a similar management response. New tools were developed and further evaluation and improvement on these tools are being conducted. One new method of landscape classification is called Geomorphons. This digital mapping tool groups soils based on landscape position which ultimately redistributes water resulting in differ soil populations. This research gives producers in small farming operations options to focus on options to minimize inputs while maintaining equal or greater production. With these options, producers can minimize risk and potentially increase profit margins. These research output products are being used nationally and internationally. Research has been completed which focuses on soil nutrient and fertility zones at the field to landscape scale. After long-term poultry litter applications, nutrients are redistributed based on rainfall redistribution within the landscape. This leads to areas within the same field to be depleted and some areas with concentrated nutrients. This is important when thinking about forage production as well as potential nutrient runoff. In research we discovered both natural rainfall and management led to large differences in nutrient distribution with a field. As part of our research project, research has been completed on Agroforestry research by utilizing some of the principles developed in digital soil mapping to identify nutrient distribution related to forage production. Future applications will focus on rates for tree growth and timber quality within different soil functional zones. Technology has been a research focus with several applications focused on increased production efficiency. Research was completed utilizing remotely sensed data to predict carbon sinks by combining this data with digital soil mapping techniques. Carbon is not equally distributed within landscapes or fields and tools are needed to sharpen the focus on soil health and management options for producers. Additionally, research has been completed on the analysis of GPS tractor guidance with auto-steer. These additions to tractors are within 1 cm of accuracy and were found to minimize overlaps and gaps during applications to fields. Due to minimizing the overlaps and gaps, the production efficiency is increased by approximately 20% due to reduced fuel usage, nutrient/chemical applications, time and equipment usage. The research output was converted to a web-based application through a collaboration with the University of Arkansas so producers can evaluate the investment cost of the equipment related to the size and output of their operation. Research completed on parasite control for small ruminants in pasture based systems included the use of copper oxide wire particles (COWP) alone or in combination with commercial dewormers to target barber pole worm, which causes anemia and death, and other gastrointestinal worms; the combination of COWP and dewormer (albendazole, levamisole, and the three-way combination) increased efficacy up to 99%. Sericea lespedeza (AU Grazer variety), either grazed or fed as hay or pellets was useful as a tool to control gastrointestinal parasites, but was not always effective and long-term feeding was associated with some trace mineral deficiencies. It was determined that the most important tool to manage parasites is parasite resistance. A long-term research project on selection of Katahdin sheep for parasite resistance balanced with maternal traits using estimated breeding values (EBV) and phenotypic traits demonstrated that the ARS and U.S. flocks consistently showed a downward trend (lower fecal egg counts) toward improved parasite resistance over the last 10 years. These sheep are genetically connected to animals from several farms in the U.S. An EBV for the peri-parturient rise fecal egg count, a measure of parasite resistance around the time of lambing was developed and reported on. It was also determined that selection for parasite resistance would have little impact on maternal and growth traits. A study was initiated in collaboration with several institutions to obtain phenotypic data and DNA on lambs enrolled in the National Sheep Improvement Program from at least 20 farms across the U.S., which is being used to find genetic markers for parasite resistance, contributing to earlier work that included susceptible and resistant Katahdin sires. A study was conducted at University of Idaho on lambs with high and low fecal egg count EBVs which indicated that loci on chromosomes 2, 3, 16, 23, and 24 were significantly associated at the genome level with parasite resistance, and a single region on chromosome 2 was identified. Further, using progeny tested sires with high accuracy EBVs for parasite resistance, a region on chromosome 5, and possibly chromosome 16 was associated with parasite resistance. A multi-year study has been completed on finishing fall or winter born lambs on predominantly grass pastures either with or without supplement finished to a light weight typical for grass finishing. Winter born lambs required more supplementation due to the poorer quality forages and had greater morbidity related to parasites, but fall born ram lambs finished on cool season grasses performed well with or without supplement and had minimal issues with parasites, requiring fewer deworming in fall compared with winter born lambs. Data has been collected in multiple years to examine differences in dynamics of gastrointestinal parasites in lambs born in fall or winter, which will aid in decisions on parasite management of lambs. Data on nutrient quality of bristly locust and sumac along with forages in a browse pasture for goats has been collected, and goats have grazed the plot without inflicting damage to trees, indicating the potential for long-term success of this grazing system.


Review Publications
Sun, Z.X., Jiang, Y.Y., Wang, Q.B., Sun, F., Zhang, M., Owens, P.R., Libohova, Z. 2019. A comparative analysis between local soils and dust deposition on snow in Shenyang, China and implications on loess-palesols evolution. Geoderma. 342:34-41.
Ngunjiri, M.W., Libohova, Z., Minai, J.O., Serrem, C., Owens, P.R., Schulze, D.G. 2019. Predicting soil types and soil properties with limited data in the Uasin Gishu Plateau, Kenya. Geoderma Regional. 16:e00210.
Jiang, Y., Sun, Z., Owens, P.R., Adhikari, K., Wang, Q., Dorantes, M., Read, J.J., Ashworth, A.J., Libohova, Z. 2019. Spatial distribution of soil phosphorus, calcium, and pH following long-term broiler litter application. Journal of Environmental Quality.
Wood, E.L., Burke, J.M., Dirk, P., Acharya, M., Miller, J.E., Coffey, K.P. 2019. Gastrointestinal nematode infection and growth of grass based Katahdin lambs. Sheep and Goat Research Journal. Available: 33(11):1-10.
Whitley, N.C., Terrill, T.H., Griffin, E.B., Greer-Mapson, L., Singh, A.K., Owen, V., Dykes, G.S., Kommuru, D.S., Miller, J.E., Mosjidis, J.M., Punnuri, S., Burke, J.M. 2018. Effect of ensiling on efficacy of sericea lespedeza against gastrointestinal nematodes and coccidia in goats. Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology. A(8):377-387.