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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #359362

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Shifting cattle producer beliefs on stocking and invasive forage: Implications for grassland conservation

item Raynor, Edward
item COON, JAIME - University Of Illinois
item SWARTZ, TIMOTHY - University Of Illinois
item MORTON, LOIS - Iowa State University
item SCHACHT, WALTER - University Of Nebraska
item MILLER, JAMES - University Of Illinois

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/30/2019
Publication Date: 11/5/2019
Publication URL:
Citation: Raynor, E.J., Coon, J.J., Swartz, T.M., Morton, L.W., Schacht, W.H., Miller, J.R. 2019. Shifting cattle producer beliefs on stocking and invasive forage: Implications for grassland conservation. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 72:888-898.

Interpretive Summary: Understanding the perceptions of conservation practices and demographics of livestock producers is a critical step for addressing changing demands for biodiversity conservation and agricultural production. Further, how livestock producer perceptions towards conservation practices and demographics may shift in time are unexplored aspects of social and ecological systems that may inform planning. This study of mailed-in surveys responses evaluates change between 2007 and 2017 in livestock producer decision-making and demographics in an area of the eastern North American Great Plains where livestock production is a vital source of income. We determined socio-economic factors have changed over the decade towards an economically-oriented rather than an environmentally-oriented perspective. Also, we take an in-depth look at factors underlying a livestock producer’s willingness to reduce stocking rate if it results in a positive conservation outcome. We found increasing rental acreage and an increasing cover of invasive cool-season grass were negatively associated with a producer’s willingness to reduce stocking rate. We discuss how such temporal shifts in perceptions and demographics may be underpinned by knowledge of invasive species, community-level communication, and trends in landownership. We also discuss the role of a grazing tolerant cool-season exotic grass, tall fescue, in driving perceptions of conservation practices such as the application of conservative stocking rates in grazing enterprises.

Technical Abstract: To advance the dialogue to define sustainable working landscapes, it is essential to include the perceptions, knowledge, and factors guiding decision-making. We surveyed livestock producers in western Iowa and Missouri to gain insight into key factors shaping decision-making and perspectives on effective management practices in the eastern Great Plains, focusing in particular on demographic and social change and producer willingness to reduce stocking rate as a conservation practice. First, a longitudinal evaluation of livestock producer demographics in 2007 and 2017 revealed individuals were older and were renting grazing land to a greater extent than in 2007. Second, when making land management decisions, producers in 2017 focused on economic concerns more than environmental concerns compared to more balanced views in 2007. Prioritization of the environment over economics was related to both higher levels of education and a willingness to reduce stocking rate (livestock production) if there is a positive conservation outcome. In contrast, a lower willingness to reduce stocking was associated with increasing rental acreage and prevalence of an invasive cool-season grass that responds favorably to heavy grazing (tall fescue, Schedonorus arundinaceus). Regardless, about 37% of cattle producers representing ~40% of the land area surveyed were at least moderately willing to reduce stocking rates to achieve a conservation outcome. In conclusion, our findings suggest that producers’ need to gain income from livestock may limit the willingness to enact a conservation practice similar to reduced stocking rates. However, there is clearly conservation receptiveness from a segment of the producer community, which indicates potential for improved conservation.