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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Booneville, Arkansas » Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center » Research » Research Project #437728

Research Project: Innovative Nutrient Management Options for Sustainable Pasture Land Intensification

Location: Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center

Project Number: 6020-21310-011-61-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2019
End Date: Mar 31, 2022

Objective:
Objective 1: Determine the impact of summer annuals on grazing days and animal weight gain. Objective 2: Assess forage production potential of different summer annuals and winter annuals under sod seeded conditions without grazing. Objective 3: Measure changes in soil health across holistic pasture management systems varying in grazing intensity and soil fertility amendment practices under both research and farm conditions. Objective 4: Conduct producer field trials to assess field performance of sub-surface poultry litter application equipment that is modified to plant at the same time. Objective 5: Calibrate and modify existing decision support software to provide greater planning support for cattle operations using producer feedback about needed modifications to improve user-friendliness.

Approach:
Objective 1: Stocker cattle operations require forage of high nutritive value to maximize animal gain over the summer. In the mid and southern parts of Arkansas (AR), summer stockers are reliant on bermudagrass pastures, which require high levels of nitrogen input and energy supplementation. Beef gains on sorghum-sudangrass (SS) can be high to moderate. Therefore summer annuals require intensive management to maintain high nutritive value and palatability. The brown-mid rib (BMR) trait can help reduce issues with digestibility. Objective 2: Small plot trials will be used to test BMR SS and the 2 legumes individually and in binary mixtures with BMR SS in two different locations, one at USDA ARS DBSFRC in Booneville, AR, and the other at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The small plot trials will integrate winter annuals to extend the grazing season and provide weed control in early spring. Winter annuals from all treatments will be harvested on the same day in early April and summer annuals planted immediately thereafter. Objective 3: Soil samples will be collected for each plot annually during the spring (0-15 cm depth) using the Soil Core Method to minimize spatial variability from sub-surface poultry litter applications. Should nutrient requirements lead to lesser litter application recommendations that the above stated targets, litter application will be limited to avoid excess application of nutrients. Further, soils will be limed to correct for pH. Terminal soil health (physical, chemical, and biological properties) will be evaluated to advance our understanding of interconnected soil health, animal response, plant growth, and nutrient cycling, all of which are linked to agricultural sustainability across regional farm landscapes. All soil properties collected [bulk density/macroagggregation, soil organic carbon, electrical conductivity, pH, nutrients and biological assessments] will be integrated using USDA's Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF) to calculate soil quality indices. Objective 4: Farmer producers will conduct field trials on pastures of different size and shape as outlined under the project participants section. The modified subsurfer will be transported to each farm and litter applied pending soil test. Further refilling of the subsurfer with seed and litter will affect daily capacity of the subsurfer and thereby affect economic cost of application. Objective 5: For each farm, the FORCAP model will be used to assess the status quo of current farm operations to be compared to alternative production systems. The FORCAP model will be updated to enhance companion crop production, fertilizer application, and calf retention or stocker cattle practices with cooperating farmer input in the first year to gain better assessment of grazing efficiency associated with forage availability and quality over time. The tool is intended to help producers compare and contrast management practices before field application. User tutorials will be developed to assist with user-friendliness. Production practice successes and failures along with a demonstration of the tool will occur with planned outreach activities.