Location: Natural Resource Management ResearchTitle: Evaluating the USDA-NRCS pasture condition score system with weighted indicators Author
Submitted to: Ecological Indicators
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/31/2014
Publication Date: 3/6/2014
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/58599
Citation: Sanderson, M.A. 2014. Evaluating the USDA-NRCS pasture condition score system with weighted indicators. Ecological Indicators. 41:183-186. Interpretive Summary: The pasture condition score system is an assessment and monitoring tool used by the USDA-NRCS in rating pastures for cost-share programs and for inventorying pastureland. The system has been modified to address specific variations among regions in vegetation and soils by assigning weights to the individual indicators to emphasize or de-emphasize particular attributes. We investigated how the modifications (different weighting systems) affected the resulting ratings of pastures and influenced management decisions. Five regional weighting systems were used to calculate pasture condition scores from indicators measured on 39 farms in the northeastern U.S. The different weighting systems shifted pasture condition scores higher, which resulted in different pasture management recommendations compared with those generated from the original scoring system. This suggests that the weighting systems did not adequately account for regional variations in soils and vegetation and further suggests the need for some form of standard reference site or classification to account for these variations.
Technical Abstract: The Pasture Condition Score (PCS) system is a monitoring and assessment tool for pastureland in the USA. The original system has been modified to address specific variations in vegetation and soils by assigning weights to the individual indicators to emphasize or de-emphasize particular attributes. We compared the effects of different weighting systems on aggregate PCSs and their distribution among five management recommendation categories. Five regional weighting systems were used to compute aggregate PCSs from a data set of 178 observations of pasture condition indicators measured on 39 farms. Distributions of PCSs from the five systems were compared with those obtained from using the original system. In modifications of the original system, plant vigor was the most heavily weighted indicator, whereas plant residue was the least weighted. The various weighting methods tended to increase aggregate scores compared with nonweighted scores, which resulted in different management recommendations. The median score for the original system was 31 compared with a range of 33 to 36 for the weighted systems. Alterations of the PCS system to include weighted indicators attempt to adjust for different environments and site types and suggest the need for some form of standard reference site or classification to account for differences in site type.