North Dakota State University
North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station
Central Grasslands Research Center

From the Director's Desk

By Paul Nyren

The North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station (NDAES) is the state's public research and development arm. Headquartered at North Dakota State University, Fargo, NDAES consists of a network of research centers throughout the state. In response to producer requests, each center was created by an act of the North Dakota Legislature for the purpose of conducting research specific to the soil types, precipitation pattern, and growing season length of a physiographic region of the state.

To serve the state effectively and economically, NDAES research projects are integrated and multidisciplinary. Scientists from every agricultural discipline at NDSU conduct research at the centers. Research projects are designed to meet specific goals and are a response to input from each center's Advisory Committee, area producers and county agents. For example, the recent Rangeland Initiative, funded by the last legislature, is a grass roots request by cattle producers for more work on range ecology throughout North Dakota.

The Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC), located northwest of Streeter, ND, was established by legislative act in 1977, and reaffirmed by the 1989 legislative assembly, to serve the 16 counties in the Coteau region of North Dakota. This area, bounded by the Missouri River on the west and the James River on the east, contains approximately 40% of the state's rangeland and raises 41% of the state's beef cattle. One of seven centers in the state, CGREC is the largest in acreage, maintaining 5,335 acres of pasture, hay and cropland and a 500 cow herd. The Center's legislated mission requires that research in range and livestock management be conducted with the following objectives:

  1. To increase the range-carrying capacity of native range with emphasis on conservation.
  2. Stabilization of grass production to determine how to best compensate for the vagaries of weather as it influences forage production.
  3. Identification of different management systems on beef production in the central region of the state.
  4. Exploration of increased use of crop residues and by-products for the maintenance of the cow herd.
  5. To disseminate research results and information for the benefit of the state of North Dakota.

All research projects at CGREC are designed to fulfill these goals. Scientific procedures and analytical methods are used to meet academic and professional requirements.

Research Centers: Comparison and Contrast

The unique combination of soil type and precipitation patterns of a region affects forage and rangeland production. The results of research conducted at CGREC is applicable to other locations in the Missouri Coteau which extends from Saskatchewan to Central South Dakota. The Dickinson Research Center also has a legislated mission to conduct similar forage and beef production research on behalf of producers in western North Dakota. Both research centers investigate similar grazing systems but use different management methods to compensate for variances in the environment.

We are often asked why more than one research center deals with the same commodity such as crops, livestock or rangeland. Some may see this as duplication of effort in times of tight budgets. The North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station system is made up of seven Research Extension Centers located throughout the state to research agricultural problems where they occur. To the casual observer North Dakota may look like a relatively flat state with similar climate and soils throughout. However, as many farmers already know, the crop that will perform best in the eastern Red River valley will not always do as well in the southwest. These differences which show up on crop varieties developed by plant breeders may also show up on plants that have been developed by natural selection.

Analysis of 90+ years of precipitation data at the Dickinson Research Center reveals a consistent pattern of droughtiness during the months of July-September. Western North Dakota has been in an extended period of drought since 1986. A similar analysis of 46 years of precipitation data for areas in the Coteau, indicate average to near-average precipitation patterns at CGREC. Average annual precipitation measures 17.8 inches at CGREC and 15.9 inches at Dickinson. Long term data shows that CGREC receives 1.25 inches more than Western North Dakota during the growing season months April-September.

Data collected at CGREC on a twice-over rotation grazing system indicates that it takes 1.25 acres of rangeland to support a 1000 pound cow and her calf for one month. Dr. Lee Manske's research at the Dickinson Center shows a need of two acres per cow-calf pair per month on a similar grazing system. The length of the grazing season on native pasture also varies at each location.

In addition to the soil and precipitation variances, Manske feels that the physiology of the native range species found in western North Dakota may differ from those found in the Coteau region. The same native range species are found in both locations but their physiology in terms of root growth and capacity to absorb available soil moisture and nutrients may differ.

Future Plans

The CGREC is in the process of developing a strategic plan. To accomplish this task a survey was developed and mailed to producers and community leaders in the Coteau area. The results will be reported in the 1998 Annual Report.

Discussions are currently underway with Main Station scientists concerning several new research studies. A comprehensive trial to look at beef production systems is needed. The development of such a study would require large inputs of land and livestock and involve several scientists from various disciplines at NDSU.

Rangeland soils is an area of increasing interest and discussions are underway with members of the Soils Department concerning how we might cooperate on studies on soil organic matter accumulation under grasslands and soil water management, including soil moisture recharge and movement.

Studies on rangeland nutrition are underway but need to be expanded to include more native plants and work to better understand how we can more efficiently harvest the nutrients and energy produced on rangelands.

Several producers have also asked how grazing affects wetland vegetation. We would also like to work with staff at the Plant Science Department and ARS to develop late maturing forages and possibly explore drought resistant species from other countries with a goal of enhancing range productivity and extending the length of the grazing season.

March 1998

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North Dakota State University
North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station
Central Grasslands Research Center