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K-State Today

May 13, 2013



University team receives $9.6 million USDA grant to help develop solutions for beef cattle grazing systems

By Communications and Marketing

Drought, flooding, extreme heat, subzero temperatures: All of these climatic events and more in Kansas can threaten the supply and affordability of the nation's beef supply. It's hard to do much about the weather, but a team of Kansas State University scientists will be trying to find solutions so cattlemen can better adapt to any future climate extremes in their grazing operations.

Much of the nation's beef supply is produced on permanent grazing lands and wheat pasture in the Southern Great Plains, including Kansas. Protecting this vital supply from the stresses of climate variability is one key to our nation's food security, said Chuck Rice, university distinguished professor of agronomy and one of the leaders of the team.

Realizing the importance of this issue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a $9.6 million, five-year grant to a multistate partnership that includes Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Oklahoma, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Noble Foundation and Tarleton State University, Rice said.

The Kansas State University team also is led by Peter Tomlinson, assistant professor of agronomy and environmental quality specialist, and Gerad Middendorf, associate professor of sociology. The evaluation component will be directed by the university's office of educational innovation and evaluation.

Others on the university's team include Justin Waggoner, beef systems specialist, Southwest Research-Extension Center; Doug Shoup, crops and soils specialist, and Jaymelynn Farney, beef systems specialist, Southeast Research-Extension Center; Dan Devlin, professor of agronomy and director of the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment; Aavudai Anandhi Swamy, research assistant professor of agronomy; Jim Shroyer, crop production specialist and professor of agronomy; Walter Fick, range specialist and professor of agronomy; Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, nutrient management specialist and associate professor of agronomy; and DeAnn Presley, soil management specialist and associate professor of agronomy.

"Our uniquely qualified team will answer critically important research questions and deliver extension programming about impacts of climate variability on beef cattle grazing operations in Kansas and the Southern Great Plains," Tomlinson said. "We also will work on the sustainability of rural economies under variable and changing climates."

The project's goal is to increase the resiliency of beef cattle operations on grazing lands and wheat pasture, both dual purpose and graze-out, so they can better sustain productivity in the future through a wide range of potential climate changes, Rice said.

The team will work with ranchers and farmers to evaluate management practices and suggest changes for better resiliency. Specifically, the project will focus on:

* Improved grazing management

* Increased water use efficiency

* More diversified forage sources

* Development of multiple marketing options

* Strategic drought planning

* Improved soil and water quality

* Ways to provide more stable farm household incomes

Success of this effort will contribute to the long-term viability of beef grazing systems in Kansas and the Southern Great Plains under changing climate environments, Rice said.

Funding is being provided through the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of $19.5 million the institute is making available to various scientific teams nationally to support the development of climate solutions relative to beef and dairy cattle.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Coordinated Agricultural Projects bring together teams of researchers that represent various geographic areas to support scientific discovery, technology development and improved communication, all of which are key elements in promoting innovative, science-based solutions to critical and emerging national priorities and needs.

"We have seen the impact that variable climate patterns have had on production agriculture for the past several years; these projects will deliver the best tools available to accurately measure and respond to the effects of climate on beef and dairy production," said Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture. "Farmers and ranchers need sound, science-based information and solutions to help them make management decisions that will sustain their productivity and keep their operations economically viable."

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture made the Southern Great Plains award through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative funding opportunity. The initiative's Climate Variability and Change challenge area is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural and forest production systems and preparing the nation's agriculture and forests to adapt to changing climates.