Designing Research to Help Producers: A Survey of Users of Programs at the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC)
By Paul Nyren, Jeff Printz, Anne Nyren, Bob Patton, and Brian Kreft


 Purpose of the CGREC questionnaire

The purpose of the questionnaire was to collect qualitative and quantitative information to assist personnel at CGREC:

1) in determining the needs, goals and preferences of producers in the Coteau area of North Dakota

2) to assess producers' opinions of the current research program at the center and

3) To identify future research areas and needs.

Since 1981, the research at CGREC has been conducted in response to input from local and area producers. The CGREC staff are committed to maintaining a research program which fits the needs of producers in the Coteau area and the goals set forth in the Center's mission statement.

Central Grasslands Research Extension Center: Mission and Goals

The Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC) was established by the 1977 legislature in response to demands from producers in the Coteau area 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."

The legislated mission of the CGREC is as follows: " The CGREC shall conduct research designed to fulfill needs within an area bounded by the Missouri River on the west and the James River on the east with research objectives as follows:

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 variability of the 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."

Significance of Grasslands Research to North Dakota

There are over five million acres of native rangeland in the Coteau area of North Dakota constituting 40% of the state's rangeland and 38% of the state's farms. Frequently, this important economic resource is overlooked in state and regional planning. Livestock is the second largest Ag Industry in the state and 42% of the state's livestock is raised in the Coteau area. Long-term research at CGREC has shown that seeding marginal-highly erodible land to grass and grazing it with beef cattle can return an average profit of $30.24 per acre versus $6.23 per acre for the same type of land producing a small grain crop. More than 3 million acres of marginal-highly erodible land in North Dakota have been reseeded to perennial grass in the past 12 years through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). If 50% of these acres remain in grass for grazing, the increase to the North Dakota economy would total $36 million.

Long term research at CGREC evaluating grazing systems shows that 1.5 acres of good to excellent condition rangeland are needed to adequately maintain a cow and her calf for one month - one animal unit month (AUM). A six-year economic comparison of grazing CRP showed an average cost per AUM of $80.97. There are approximately 5.2 million acres of rangeland in the Coteau area of North Dakota. An estimated average of 1.75 acres per AUM are needed to maintain animal health and grassland productivity throughout the Coteau. This calculates to 2.9 million AUMs. At a cost of $80.97 per AUM, this translates to more than $235 million that is spent annually in communities and businesses throughout the Coteau area.

Development of the Questionnaire

The questionnaire survey of producer/users of the CGREC research was developed in two phases. In the first phase, a preliminary questionnaire was mailed to a list of 52 members of the Society for Range Management in North Dakota during September 1997. Respondents were encouraged to make improvements to the questions where needed. In second phase, a strategic planning discussion led by Jeff Printz, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Jamestown, addressed the objectives for future research at CGREC. He was joined by Kyle Hartel and Jim Clapper, NRCS; Randy Gaebe, Logan County Extension Service; Joe Gross, Kidder County Extension Service; and Michael Hanson, Emmons County Extension Service.

The summary and conclusions from this meeting were ranked by order of importance as follows:

1. Research to increase the carrying capacity of native range.

2. Proper fall calving management.

3. Research to learn more about grass-finished beef.

4. Water quality issues.

5. Specific breed efficiency on plant species.

6. Specific grasses for CRP that are good for grazing/haying in the future.7. Determine the economic importance of items 1-6.

As a result of the preliminary questionnaire and the strategic planning session, a final version of the survey instrument was developed. In addition to questions on information needs and the most significant problems in range management, the survey also asked for the age of the respondent and the area of agriculture in which they were involved, e.g. land management agency, agri-business, farmer/rancher.

Final Questionnaire

The final questionnaire was reviewed by Dr. Mike Weiss, Assistant Director of the ND Experiment Station. Based on the experience of area business men and two state and federal agencies, an 8%-10% response was targeted as being usual for this area.

The new questionnaire was developed and mailed to 600 producers and farm businesses in the southern Coteau area and three were mailed to NDSU staff. All responses used were anonymous. Data was collected From November 1997-January 1998.

From the selected sample of producers, 93 useable questionnaires were completed (a response rate of 15.5%). Of these, 77 listed farmer/rancher as their major occupation, 11 as agri-business, 3 land management agency employees and 2 listed "other" occupations. The respondents were comprised of the following age groups.

Table 1. Number of Respondents by Age
Under 35 4
36-45 37
46-55 23
56-65 15
Over 65 14
Total 93

Survey Results

The general response columns in tables 2-6 represent a combination of the answers ranked 1 or 2 by each respondent.

Question #1: Do you find the information in the CGREC Annual Report useful?

Seventy-two percent of respondents showed that they found the report useful. Three percent said it was not helpful and 25% said they did not recall seeing the report.

Question #2: What information in the CGREC Annual Report best fits the needs of today's producers/managers?

Seventy-three percent of the respondents said livestock reports were very important, and 67% said that grazing information was important. Fifty-two percent of all respondents found the economics of grazing and haying CRP information helpful and 16% wanted more information on soils (Table 2).

Table 2. Response to question 2: What information in the CGREC report best fits the needs of today's producers/managers? (Percent of respondents listing the following choices as important or very important)
 
Choices General Response
Livestock reports (fall calving, creep feeding etc.) 73%
Grazing information 67%
Economics of grazing and haying CRP 52%
Information about soils 16%

Question #3: What would you like to see more information about?

Fifty-seven percent of respondents indicated that information on livestock nutrition and feeding studies was a high priority. This was followed by Ag. Economics information (43%), forage production and forage quality research(39%) and animal health at 23%.

Table 3. Response to question 3: Which of the following would you like to see more information about? (Percent of respondents listing the following choices as important or very important)
Choices General Response
Livestock nutrition & feeding studies

Ag. economics

Forage production & quality

Animal health

How to inventory range resources

Noxious weed control

Water quality

Wildlife

57%

43%

39%

23%

14%

14%

13%

6%

Question #4: What do you value most about ranching?

Sixty percent stated that quality of life and being self-employed was most valued. Thirty-five percent said they found the nature of the work itself and their interactions with family and community the most satisfying (Table 4).

Table 4. Response to question 4: What do you value most about ranching? (Percent of respondents listing the following choices as important or very important)
Choices

Quality of life.

Being self employed

The nature of the work itself

Interaction with family and community

General Response

60%

60%

35%

35%

Question #5: What do you see as the biggest problem for producers/managers engaged in range management?

Table 5 showed that 70% of respondents listed cost of operation as the biggest problem followed by 68% who stated that the variability of the markets was a major concern. Some respondents added qualitative responses to this question such as, "It is hard to be getting older and know I have worked all my life to feed society and am not appreciated."

Table 5: Response to question 5: What do you see as the biggest problem for producers/managers engaged in range management? (Percent of respondents listing the following choices as important or very important)
 
Choices

Cost of operation

Variability in markets

The weather problems

Environmental disputes (endangered species, etc.)

Variability in forage production

Social isolation

General Response

70%

68%

34%

16%

16%

3%

Question #6: What medium of communications do you prefer?

The preferred medium of communication is farm magazines (57%), field days (44%), written reports 39% and in-door programs 35% (Table 6).

Table 6: Response to question 6: What medium of communications do you prefer? (Percent of respondents listing the following choices as important or very important)
Choices

Farm papers and magazines

Outdoor programs (field days, tours)

Written reports

Indoor programs (slide talks, etc.)

One on one conversations (telephone, etc.)

Internet and/or e-mail

General Response

57%

44%

39%

35%

24%

4%

Some Suggestions by Respondents for Future Research at CGREC

1. Study of feeding poor quality cattle -- $40 calves compared to feeding $80 calves on profit per head.

2.    Demonstrate how a prosperous living can be accomplished on rangeland. This response suggested that an entire systems          approach would be helpful. The respondent wrote:

Design a model farm that will yield $30,000 to $60,000 profit for a small family. Consider your expertise in  genetics, forage production, livestock nutrition, feed grain production, fertilizer production with legumes, and livestock waste.

3. Economics of cow-calf vs running yearlings.

4. How residue or by-products from new or old crops and forages can be used for livestock production or possible industrial        uses.

5. Economics of cattle internal parasite control - sustained release formulations, in a yearling summer grazing situation.

6. Anything that cuts costs of production.

7. Methods to decrease amount of harvested feed necessary to winter beef cows to decrease cost of operation.

8. Leafy spurge control in land use.

9. What grasses will grow on Coteau soils when interseeded with native grasses.

10. Grass varietal production.

11. Feeding calves on range and on backgrounding rations.

Conclusions and Implications

The responses indicate that the majority of the respondents were interested in traditional ranching practices-grazing and livestock production, forage production, and management-for-profitability techniques. Qualitative comments also indicated that 31% of all respondents, and 35% of respondents between the ages of 36-45, were interested in actual models and research which would demonstrate a profitability concept. The issue of profitability may need further discussion to establish realistic criteria for measurement, but this area may provide information which could be compared to other business and industry standards. The results of this survey definitely indicate the need for practical techniques which clarify and demonstrate the concept of profitable management.

The qualitative responses also revealed some concern for quality of life issues. While 60% of the respondents stated that the quality of life found on their ranching operation was of major importance to them, some wrote that they felt, "Unappreciated by society." Others believed that the importance of farming in general was not understood. This aspect of the survey may suggest the need to include research personnel from other disciplines when developing new Ag. research projects. The survey results indicate that producers and users find the current research program at CGREC useful and timely. CGREC personnel will explore some of the suggestions for future research with scientists at the Main Station in Fargo and with other state and federal agencies.


Paul E. Nyren, Director
North Dakota State University
Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
4824 48th Ave SE
Streeter, ND 58483
Phone: 701-424-3606
E-mail: grasland@ndsuext.nodak.edu


NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

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