University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers are looking into making agricultural land more efficient.
Jim MacDonald, associate professor of Animal Science and Ruminant Nutrition, says the growing population and increased need for food prompted the study.
He wants to know if livestock can share the same ground used for crops without hurting either’s output.
“Crop prices are not very good right now, so the profitability of those acres that were converted over to crop production, people are looking for alternative or additional sources of income,” MacDonald tells Nebraska Radio Network, “I think you’re seeing things like confinement swine facilities go onto existing farms.”
MacDonald says they will measure crop yields to make sure grazing livestock is not hurting the soil.
They also will try to determine the risk of not having enough forage for animals on the cropland.
“(A cow will) spend about six months in confinement where she’s fed harvested crop residue and distillers grain,” MacDonald explains, “and then the other six months, she’s either grazing high-quality forage cover crop and then she’s grazing corn residue.”
As a result, cows will have to birth their calves in the fall, instead of the spring, for the study.
Greenhouse gas emissions will be studied as well.
MacDonald says they will monitor carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions from this type of production.
“That can be a sensitive issue and there’s a lot of emotion that goes behind that issue,” he admits, “but the reality is the consumer is increasingly interested in the carbon efficiency of food production, so we think it’s important that those measurements be taken in actual production systems.”
MacDonald says carbon efficiency will be studied by how much food is produced compared to gas emissions.
The project is funded by a five-year, $1 million grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.
AUDIO: Mike Loizzo reports [:40]