A team of Southern Great Plains scientists and educators will receive $9.6 million over five years to improve understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of beef production in an environment of increased climate variability, dynamic land-use and fluctuating markets.

The team is comprised of 32 scientists from Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma, Kansas State University, Tarleton State University, the Samuel R. Noble Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service laboratories in El Reno, Oklahoma, and Bushland, Texas.

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

“Our team’s goal is to safeguard and promote regional beef production while mitigating the environmental footprint of agriculture,” said Dave Engle of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. “The project also includes education and Extension components to train the next generation of producers and researchers in addressing climatic effects on beef cattle.”

Using a community- and citizen-science approach, the project will train young students and citizens to use GPS-enabled digital cameras and smartphones and web data portals to participate in field data collection. The geospatial data will be integrated into a portal for community-based analysis and inventory and used to educate the general public on climate change relative to range-based beef production.

“We felt it was important to improve understanding about how everything works, from the raising of livestock to grazing management and practices, to the healthy and nutritious beef product being purchased by consumers at the retail counter,” said Jean Steiner, director of USDA-ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno.

For example, an area of particular interest is the determination of what areas of beef production are most vulnerable, and how producers might use best management practices and technological advances to solve these issues.

“We’ll also be looking at trade-offs, basically finding the most advantageous balance between real-world beef production needs and environmental stewardship,” Engle said.

The Southern Great Plains states comprise one of the nation’s most important beef-producing regions. One particular challenge faced by beef producers is that there is a greater change in annual precipitation within the region than exists from the region to the east coast of the United States.

“There is not only a great deal of variability in terms of geography, but also over time,” Engle said. “That makes the system as a whole more vulnerable to factors such as drought, flooding and high temperatures.”

In addition, beef cattle production is not performed under a single management system. For example, producers raise their livestock using forages from rangeland, introduced perennial grasses and winter wheat. What may work best in a specific part of a state may not be the best choice for another part, economically or environmentally.

“A real strength of our team is that ongoing projects may be performed under the leadership of 32 scientists, but they will involve many of the lead scientists’ collaborating partners – fellow researchers, graduate students and professional staffs at the various institutions – in a multidisciplinary approach that takes maximum advantage of a wide range of scientific knowledge and expertise,” Steiner said.

NIFA’s Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAP) 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,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “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.”

NIFA made the Southern Great Plains award available through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) funding opportunity. AFRI'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.

 

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