Director's Report: Research Tailored to Meet Regional Needs

Paul Nyren, Director, Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the 2004 Central Grasslands Research Extension Center’s (CGREC) annual report. In this issue there will be a number of new and interesting research trials discussed. The Center staff, along with numerous cooperators at the Main Station in Fargo, work to continue to answer your questions and concerns and to develop research that will help provide better management tools to all producers and other resource managers.

Mission Statement

North Dakota State University’s Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC) was established in 1977 by HB-1528 “to fulfill those research needs which cannot be accomplished at any presently existing experimental facility, because of peculiar types of grasses, soils, precipitation, and climate, there is hereby established a centrally located North Dakota Grasslands Research Station within an area bounded by the Missouri River on the west and the James River on the east". This area, known as the Coteau area of North Dakota, extends from Divide and Burke counties in northwestern North Dakota in a southeasterly direction through Dickey County.

Advisory Committee

The “grass roots” support for the development of the center and the participation of producers in our Advisory Committee continues to be the foundation on which we build our program. The fact that the Coteau area of the state is a highly productive livestock region makes our work here important.

Significance of Grassland Research to North Dakota

The Missouri Coteau is a moraine highland deposited in a broad band across the state of North Dakota by receding glaciers some 10,000 years ago. The land is characterized by rolling, grassy hills, rocky soils, and wetlands and lakes are common. While many acres of the Coteau have been converted to cropland, much of the land is highly erodible, best suited to the production of perennial forages. These rangeland pastures are an important resource for North Dakota livestock producers. This area contains 5 million acres (40%) of the state's rangeland where 42% of the state's livestock is raised on 38% of the state's farms.

We continually look for answers on how to raise more forage on the land while protecting and sustaining it for the future. For many years range scientists have known that properly managed rotational grazing will produce more forage for a given land area. Many studies have been conducted to help explain why this is so. At one time one hypotheses was that the saliva from the grazing livestock actually stimulated the plants to grow. Later we found that grazing most prairie grasses before a certain phenological stage stimulated them to develop tillers which in turn produced more forage. Studies by members of the NDSU Soils Department at the Center have now shown that proper rotational grazing actually stimulates the development of better soil health and deeper plant roots which in turn will allow for more soil moisture extraction in times of limited moisture. This discovery explains the reason for the better forage production from these pastures especially during times of drought.

Several years ago the Center conducted a visioning session with producers to help us plan our program for the future. One request was that we work to develop a holistic management system that would provide a prosperous living from an average ranch. While we have no control over the market and cannot guarantee returns we feel that proper management will help to insure as good a financial return as possible. We, therefore, have applied for and received a USDA grant to demonstrate the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for an average size ranch. We have asked several agencies, NDSU, and producer representatives to form a committee which will assist us with the management and marketing decisions for the “Model Farm”. In addition this grant will provide funding for an extension specialist to work one-on-one with producers to set up monitoring sites on their ranches and to help with management plans.

Coteau Area Resources

Since its inception the CGREC has focused on research that gives a better understanding of the natural resources of the Coteau region in North Dakota. Studies in the past have included numerous grazing systems, grass and legume variety trials, economic comparisons of various land use practices, grazing intensity trials, runoff and erosion, plant community dynamics, effect of drought on mixed grass prairie, effects of grazing and haying on CRP, switchgrass production for ethanol, and numerous creep feeding and other livestock studies. The studies listed above have included a long list of cooperators from the Main Experiment Station in Fargo as well as researchers from the USDA-ARS in Mandan, ND and Lincoln, Nebraska, USF&WS Brookings, SD, and the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center, Bismarck.

Long-Term Rangeland Ecology Research

Current research trials at the CGREC include a grazing intensity trial that evaluates five levels of grazing. These include: no grazing, low, moderate, heavy and extreme levels of grazing by yearling animals in a season-long grazing system. Data from this study, now in its seventeenth year, indicate that under extreme grazing there is a reduction in forage production and that there is also a reduction in forage production and species diversity under no grazing. Other research conducted on this study site includes the effect of grazing intensity on runoff and erosion. This study confirmed that following a heavy rainfall event there is little runoff on the moderately grazed site but significant runoff on the heavily grazed pasture. A more detailed study by the Soils Science Department at NDSU in the Spring of 2004 is helping to explain the exact reasons for these results. Soils under three separate management systems were studied. These included heavy season-long grazing, moderate rotational grazing, and idle (no grazing). Preliminary data from this study indicates that on the season-long pasture the surface infiltration was low both at the surface and below ground while on the idle land the surface infiltration was good but poor below 10". On the moderately grazed rotation the surface infiltration was good and soil water movement was also good. Plant roots penetrated the soil much deeper under the moderately grazed rotational pasture. These data help explain why we find more forage on properly managed rotationally grazed pastures than on overgrazed ones. It also indicated that during drought years there will be much more soil moisture available to plants on the properly grazed pastures than on the over grazed ones.

Visiting Scholars Program

In 2003 the CGREC entered into an agreement with the Chinese Academy of Science, Institute of Botany, for a scholar exchange program. Currently the CGREC is hosting a scientist and a student conducting ecological research on the Northern Great Plains mixed grass prairies. This work is similar to research they have conducted in Inner Mongolia. These studies will be compared to evaluate the similarities and differences between the two grasslands and the impact of years of different management.

Future Goals and Development

The CGREC is asking the legislature for funding to construct an addition to the office building that will provide additional office space and a conference room large enough to handle our Grass-n-Beef program and other extension programs for the taxpayers of the region. With the addition of interactive video conferencing the Research Extension Centers have become economic development centers for their respective communities and regions. While the centers have always been involved in economic development in agriculture we now see a future where they will be involved in promoting other types of economic development in the rural areas of the state.


NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
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