July 12, 2018

Forages and Pastures Symposium: Water-Use Efficiency at the Forage-Animal Interface

Forages and Pastures Symposium: Water-Use Efficiency at the Forage-Animal Interface

By: Lauren Soranno

The Forages and Pastures Symposium that took place on Wednesday, July 11th at the ASAS-CSAS Annual Meeting invited speakers to discuss water-use efficiency at the forage-animal interface. The majority of the presentations explained various management techniques to potentially lower environmental concerns. Chuck West, a professor at Texas Tech University, started the presentations off by analyzing the water footprint of beef stocker production in the Southern Great Plains of the U.S. His goal was to discuss ways to use land and water resources more efficiently where water resources are diminishing. West specifically compared grass-only systems versus grass-alfalfa systems concluding that the addition of a higher quality legume contributed to reducing the water footprint of steer weight gain. Dirk Philipp, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas, continued by discussing how livestock production is linked to environmental and economic challenges due to the amounts of water being used. He explained the use of life cycle assessments (LCA) as a way to incorporate water footprints from each stage of a product supply chain to model environmental impacts. These LCAs can be used to assess processes back in time as well as to predict consequences forward in time. Philipp suggested the reduction of water footprints by increasing water-use efficiency at each part of the beef supply chain by integrating grazing systems and management plans. Debbie J. Cherney, a professor at Cornell University, delved into some of these management plans focusing on forage, manure, and fertilizer. She discussed how maximizing manure management, fertilizer use, and selecting proper crops utilizing efficient rotations can increase nutrient capture to optimize yield and quality while minimizing the impacts on the environment. Manure can have lots of advantages if it is managed properly as it contains many essential macronutrients, some micronutrients, and stimulates active microbial life. Incorporating it at the correct time, such as in the spring, can conserve nitrogen by doubling the value. Michael R.F Lee, a professor at the University of Bristol, reemphasized the idea that proper management is critical to ensure maximal production with minimal pollution. He explained that livestock are critical for sustainable global food security, but they come with risk and lots of work still needs to be done to find a way to fulfill societal need while not destroying the environment. Overall, the Forages and Pastures Symposium had a common theme that water-use efficiency during meat production can be improved to reduce water footprints and lower the environmental impact of livestock production by incorporating grazing systems, manure and forage management, and other methods.