BROOKINGS — Researchers at South Dakota State University from the Departments of Animal Science and Natural Resource Management have received $1 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Inter-Disciplinary Engagement in Animal Systems (IDEAS) program. ) from the United States Department of Agriculture to fund a precision farming research project.
The IDEAS program addresses the complexity of the social, cultural, environmental, economic, and technological challenges facing the food and agriculture system in the United States today by funding applied science that occurs at the intersection of multiple disciplines. For 2022, NIFA has awarded $7.3 million in grants to eight universities, including SDSU.
Hector Menendez III, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science and SDSU Extension livestock grazing specialist, and Krista Ehlert, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resource Management and SDSU Extension state extent specialist, are the researchers principals of research and extension on the project, respectively. Other researchers receiving the grant include Jamie Brennan, Ken Olson, Amanda Blair and Zach Smith, professors in the Department of Animal Sciences, Josh Leffler, faculty member in the Department of Natural Resources Management, and Tong Wang, member of the body professor at the Ness School of Management and Economics. The grant enables the research team to address the day-to-day issues that growers face at the landscape scale.
“This study will provide an unparalleled set of individual animal, environmental and economic data, including significant insight gains into the feasibility of emerging precision farming technologies,” Menendez said.
The five-year project focuses on integrating management and precision measurement technologies to improve livestock grazing on large rangelands. With an emphasis on applying a systems approach and virtual fence technology, researchers will integrate several precision measurement technologies, including devices that will measure daily body weight, water and greenhouse gas emissions from livestock gas loss through belching. The large amount of data collected will maximize the effectiveness of virtual fencing to improve grazing systems, which creates higher quality livestock and increased economic viability for producers while gaining a better understanding of how to minimize environmental impacts. negative effects and regenerate the health and biological function of rangelands.
Menendez, Ehlert and Jamie Brennan, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science and an SDSU Extension livestock grazing specialist, conducted a pilot season with virtual fence technology in 2021 to collect preliminary data for the grant proposal. The technology, which requires a three-way interaction between a base station, software and virtual fencing collars worn around cattle’s necks, eliminates the manual labor required with traditional fencing systems.
To complete the project, 135 yearling steers will be grazed at the SDSU Cottonwood Field Station where virtual fencing and precision measurement technologies will be used. After the grazing season, steers will be fed at the SDSU Southeast Research Farm until they reach slaughter weight where their carcass and meat quality characteristics will be measured and evaluated. This cycle will be repeated three times over the life of the project to capture the typical life cycle of beef cattle in the Northern Great Plains.
“Our interdisciplinary team is unique in that we have combined rangeland, animal, meat and ecosystem ecology scientists, as well as an economist, together in a highly functional team that not only possesses the expertise and skills to execute research, but also has a proven track record of delivering innovative approaches for engaging and impactful extension programs,” said Ehlert.
Information gathered from the project will be passed on to South Dakota breeders through an SDSU Extension Precision Animal Learning training program prior to the project’s completion in 2026.
“Entering the era of precision farming means opportunity costs can be more critically assessed for the benefit of producers and their pastures,” Ehlert said.
“The data collected through this grant on greenhouse gases, livestock performance and water use will provide producers with accurate and credible numbers regarding environmental impacts. Figures like these are currently non-existent or unavailable, which means this research will help producers make improvements and demonstrate the sustainability of their products to consumers,” Menendez added.
Overall, the research team notes the importance of precision technology in providing farmers with reliable data that can help make management decisions, and they are excited to see the results of this work transforming production. of beef cattle in the Northern Great Plains and beyond.