Livestock numbers by weather and climate.
Subject: Livestock industry (Research)
Sustainable agriculture (Research)
Author: Comis, Don
Pub Date: 03/01/2011
Publication: Name: Agricultural Research Publisher: U.S. Government Printing Office Audience: Academic; General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Agricultural industry; Biotechnology industry; Business Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 U.S. Government Printing Office ISSN: 0002-161X
Issue: Date: March, 2011 Source Volume: 59 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research
Organization: Government Agency: United States. Agricultural Research Service
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 273420670

Ranchers in the central Great Plains may soon be using some of their winter downtime to rehearse the growing season, all from the warmth of their homes.

Ranchers would use a computer model known as "GPFARM-Range" to see which stocking rates are sustainable on their rangelands. The scenarios include forage yields and weight gains of beef cattle and calves and other livestock under various stocking rates and weather conditions.

Looking at National Weather Service seasonal weather predictions, ranchers would judge whether precipitation in the coming season would likely be normal or above or below normal. The ranchers would then choose a stocking rate based on this.

"The high variability of precipitation in the semi-arid Great Plains makes it difficult for ranchers to choose a stocking rate that is the best balance between economic and rangeland sustainability," says Sam Adiku, a visiting soil scientist from Colorado State University who is working in the Agricultural Research Service's Agricultural Systems Research Unit at Fort Collins, Colorado.

Throughout the season, ranchers would keep an eye on changing weather conditions to see if adjustments in the stocking rate would be wise. GPFARMRange is one of a few range models that can also factor in the effects of climate change on stocking rates. "We can predict the response of forage plants to increased C[O.sub.2] and higher temperatures," Adiku says.

GPFARM-Range was originally developed by ARS and tested on rangeland at Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 2003. The acronym stands for "Great Plains Framework for Agricultural Resource Management."

Adiku works with ARS soil scientist Gale Dunn and research leader Laj Ahuja to test GPFARM-Range in enough locations to make the model fully usable throughout the central Great Plains. They recently tested GPFARM-Range on sheep pastures in Miles City, Montana, and beef cattle pastures at Fort Supply, Oklahoma.

At Fort Supply, Adiku and colleagues recalibrated and enhanced the model to simulate the effects of soil compaction on native sand bluestem grass. Soil compaction increases as the number of cattle per acre goes up.


With this adjustment, the model accurately predicted forage yields as stocking rates increased. Previously, the model was overestimating forage yields with high stocking rates, because it wasn't accounting for soil compaction.

GPFARM-Range guides researchers as well as ranchers by pinpointing areas requiring further research and development. "This is an evolutionary process that ties research and technology transfer closely together," Ahuja says. "It brings scientists together with farmers, ranchers, consultants, and land managers in a joint search for solutions."--By Don Comis, ARS.

This research is part of Agricultural System Competitiveness and Sustainability, an ARS national program (#216) described at

Samuel Adiku and Gale H. Dunn are in the USDA-ARS Agricultural Systems Research Unit, 2150 Centre Ave., Fort Collins, CO 80526; (970) 492-7336 [Adiku], (970) 492-7320 [Dunn], samuel.adiku@,

GPFARM, the range model's parent, can be downloaded at farmrange.

A CD is available on request by e-mailing

GPFARM-Range is not yet online, but a CD is available from Gale Dunn, gale.
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