LAKE CITY – Cattle grazing in the field is a common sight when passing farms in the area.
The Lake City Research Center would like to study the impact of these cattle on soil health and how better pasture management can benefit the environment and farmers.
Faculty director and Michigan State University professor Jason Rowntree said the center hosted about 30 scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom last summer. These scientists spent time setting up instruments around the center farm to monitor energy flow, carbon dioxide, the water cycle and biodiversity throughout the farm.
Rowntree said it has also implemented cow grazing management techniques at the sites. He said one group uses the standard approach, which allows cows to graze continuously. The other group uses an adaptive approach, which limits cow grazing time and allows longer plant recovery time.
The goal of all this work is to understand the impact of livestock on farmland and the environment.
“In Lake City over the past 12 years, we’ve actually seen significant improvements in our soil, our carbon, and the overall function of our land on the farm,” Rowntree said. “And so, with this framework, we are very interested in the impact of livestock management on the ecological function of the land.”
Rowntree said the research is part of their project Metrics, Management and Monitoring: An Investigation of Pasture and Rangeland Soil Health and its Drivers, or three-Ms for short. The $19.2 million project is funded by several organizations, including the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the Noble Research Institute, the Greenacres Foundation, the Jones Family Foundation and ButcherBox.
The study is being conducted in Michigan, Wyoming and Oklahoma.
“It’s a five-year study,” Rowntree said. “So we’re going to be monitoring Lake City for five years, but starting next year we’re going to start identifying participants in all three states so that we have 20 ranch participants in each state, and we hope to do a level monitoring and instrumentation at these sites as well.
With the study in its early stages, Rowntree said the results are preliminary and very difficult to verify. That’s not to say they haven’t already made some interesting discoveries.
“We can already see that through the management of our measurements and instrumentation, we are definitely seeing CO2 stored underground,” Rowntree said.
“That’s a good thing,” he continued. “We want more underground and less in the atmosphere.”
There is more to come with the project. Rowntree said that over the next six months they will begin recruiting 60 producers from Michigan, Wyoming and Oklahoma to participate in the project.
“We would also like to understand what kind of practices are implemented on their sites,” he said. “What does the economy potentially look like? What do they think of the management? »
Rowntree said he wants to use this collaborative effort as an educational opportunity to learn from producers as well as each other. He said cattle are seen as potentially bad for food production, but they want to show there are benefits to using cattle.
“We hope that through our work we can demonstrate that good management is in fact a good thing and that livestock can be good for the land,” he said.
The benefits don’t stop there. Rowntree said they also hope to provide better feedback to growers to help them improve the health of their land and the environment.
“We would also like to build larger, more predictive models to use to assess landscape function and ecology,” he said. “And hopefully through that we can provide feedback tools to growers, so they can see what their land is doing based on how they’re managing it in terms of carbon and water.”
Throughout the project, Rowntree said the goal was to work hand-in-hand with farmers to identify different management processes and improve landscape function.
An extension is also under consideration. Rowntree said they are working on additional funding opportunities to more accurately measure all greenhouse gases flowing through the system and install more instruments on their farms and ranches.
He also said that they want to add other geographical regions as different parts of the country have different climates, vegetation and other factors.
“Management is complex and very focused on this one site,” he said. “It’s by no means a one-size-fits-all.”
A website is in the works to let people know more about the project and its progress. Rowntree said they hope to release it by the end of the year.