Forages and Pastures Symposium: System Research
By: Lauren Soranno
Multiple speakers presented numerous ideas and findings on Tuesday, July 10th at the Forages and Pastures Symposium during the ASAS-CSAS Annual Meeting and Trade Show. The main theme throughout the group of presentations was that livestock production systems and ecosystems are complex and require efficient management. Small changes in management practices can lead to significant global implications and environmental consequences such as changes in atmospheric and soil chemical composition, water quality issues, and a reduction in biodiversity. The speakers stressed the importance of having a holistic understanding and greater flexibility to changes to maximize production. Douglas G. Boyer, an adjunct assistant professor at West Virginia University, School of Public Health, began by discussing the need for a system to be economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially responsible to have sustainable livestock. Boyer continued by stressing the importance of efficient water use and protection of surface and groundwater supplies to ensure optimum livestock production. Boyer began to analyze the amount of dissolved carbon in different types of ecological systems and explained that the highest amounts were found in silopasture systems, making it a possible area for carbon storage. Maria L. Silveira, an associate professor at the University of Florida, went further in depth about carbon storage in an ecosystem. She discussed various management practices to enhance carbon storage in soil such as fertilization and introduction of grass or legume species. Soil sequestration of carbon may lead to improved soil and water quality, reduced soil erosion, greater crop production, and decreased nutrient loss. Soil science, hydrology, plants, and animals are all important pieces of an ecosystem that need to be managed appropriately, making them complex. Maximizing production to meet societal demands requires synergy within an ecosystem as stressed by James P. Muir, a plant scientist and grassland ecologist at Texas A&M AgriLife Research. He explained that systems need to have diverse plants and animals to be resilient over time, reemphasizing that having a holistic approach is vital to successfully manage a complex ecosystem. Although simple systems are easier to manage compared with complex systems, the simpler route generally fails to meet the demands from society. James P.S Neel, a research animal scientist at the USDA-ARS-GRL, continued to discuss complex ecosystems focusing more on the importance of associated human interaction, similar to Boyer’s point earlier in the symposium about being socially responsible. Again, there are many different aspects of ecosystems such as hydrology, soil science, agronomy, and animal science that need to be managed by various people to improve the system as a whole. If people do not work together or stay focused on the big picture, an ecosystem will not be able to thrive. Overall, the Forages and Pastures Symposium focused on the importance of efficiently managing complex ecosystems by providing diverse critical resources and energy for efficient growth and maintenance of animal and plant life, while providing protection of animal and public health.