Submitted to: Forage and Grazinglands
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/14/2006
Publication Date: 9/29/2006
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Corson, M.S., Rotz, C.A., Soder, K.J. 2006. Economic analysis of forage mixture productivity in pastures grazed by dairy cattle. Electronic Journal of Forage and Grazinglands. Available: http://www.plantmanagementnetwork.org/fg/. Interpretive Summary: Establishment of new pastures from seed can be expensive, and producers often prioritize stand life of the pasture over herbage yield. In this study, we determined the whole-farm economic returns from several pasture planting scenarios that varied in stand life. Using grass-legume or grass-legume-chicory mixtures for grazing dairy cattle was more economical on a whole-farm basis and less risky than nitrogen-fertilized, grass pastures. The increased forage production from the mixtures reduced purchased feed inputs and sometimes increased income from forage sold off the farm. In all of the pasture scenarios modeled, increasing stand life of the pastures increased economic returns. Producers must consider forage productivity of mixtures along with stand life of the pasture when making decisions about pasture re-establishment or renovation.
Technical Abstract: Producers often emphasize stand life of pastures over herbage yield, because establishment of new pastures or renovation of existing pastures can be expensive. We used a whole-farm model (Integrated Farming Systems Model, IFSM) to simulate the costs and returns of establishing five types of pasture with stand lives of 3, 5, or 10 years. The five pasture types included four mixtures of forages [two, three, six, or nine species of grasses, legumes, and chicory (Cichorium intybus L.)] and an orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.)+N (150 lb/acre) pasture with a 10-yr stand life. The whole-farm economic returns of these five pasture types were estimated for a representative 100-cow dairy farm based on actual costs of establishment and pasture production from two published studies. Planting pastures to grass-legume or grass-legume-chicory mixtures increased net returns per cow compared with the orchardgrass+N pasture. The increase in net return ranged from $136/cow for the two-species mixture to $246/cow for the six-species mixture with a 10-yr stand life. Increasing stand life increased net returns from all mixtures but the increase of net return was greatest with the two-species mixture. The greater forage yields of the mixture compared with orchardgrass+N reduced purchased feed inputs and in some instances increased the income from forage sold off the farm. Production risk (the standard deviation of net returns across years) was up to 24% less for the forage mixtures compared with the orchardgrass+N scenario and risk decreased with increased stand life. Producers must consider forage productivity of mixtures along with stand life of the pasture when making decisions about pasture re-establishment or renovation.