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USDA Research To Study Effects of Climate on Dairy, Beef Cattle

USDA to fund more than $19 million in dairy and beef research projects at UW-Madison and Oklahoma State University

Published on: May 7, 2013

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced May 7 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, that the USDA has awarded $19.5 million to support research, education and Extension activities associated with climate change and its impact on dairy and beef.

The UW-Madison received $9.9 million over five years to study the environmental impact of various dairy production systems and develop best management practices for producers to implement at the farm level. The project's ultimate goal is to increase the resiliency of dairy production systems while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Vilsack said.

Oklahoma State University in in Stillwater, Okla., received $9.6 million over five years to better understand vulnerability and resilience of Southern Great Plains beef in an environment of increased climate variability, dynamic land-use and fluctuating markets. The team's goal is to safeguard regional beef production while mitigating the environmental footprint of agriculture. The project also includes education and Extension components to train the next generation of producers and researchers in addressing the impact of climate on beef cattle.

"The Center (USDA Dairy Forage Research Center) here is doing some extraordinary work," US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, told Ron Hatfield, research scientist, center, and Mike Sullivan, research scientist, right, on May 7 prior to announcing the USDA awarded $19.5 million to support research, education and Extension activities associated with climate change and its impact on dairy and beef.
"The Center (USDA Dairy Forage Research Center) here is doing some extraordinary work," US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, told Ron Hatfield, research scientist, center, and Mike Sullivan, research scientist, right, on May 7 prior to announcing the USDA awarded $19.5 million to support research, education and Extension activities associated with climate change and its impact on dairy and beef.

Using a community- and citizen-science approach, the project will train young students and citizens to use GPS-enabled digital cameras and smartphones and web data portals to participate in field data collection. The geospatial data will be integrated into a portal for community-based analysis and inventory and used to educate the general public on climate change related to range-based beef production.

The team is comprised of 32 scientists from OSU, Kansas State University, University of Oklahoma, Tarleton State University, the Samuel R. Noble Foundation, and two ARS laboratories.

Climate change affects crops and livestock

"The USDA issued two assessments not long ago," Vilsack said. "The assessments indicated as temperatures rise, crops and livestock will be impacted. Universities in California are looking at the impact of climate change on wheat and barley." The grants announced by Vilsack on May 7 will now look into research on dairy and beef.

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The USDA-funded effort will identify dairy production practices that minimize the emission of greenhouse gasses. The project, led by UW-Madison involves researchers and Extension staff from seven universities, five federal labs and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The project will be led by Matt Ruark, UW-Madison assistant professor and Extension soils specialist.

"We will work across the entire dairy production system to improve production efficiency while decreasing negative impacts in an effort to support U.S. dairy producers' ongoing sustainability efforts," Ruark says.

The project is supported by a coalition of dairy organizations. In 2008, they made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from milk production by 25% by 2020.

"This is about adaptation – how to move agriculture forward to be as productive as possible as we move into a changing climate," Ruark says. "Anything we can do to reduce losses of carbon, nitrogen and water from the system can lead to greater efficiency. This will lead to more profit for the producer, less impact on the environment and a sustainable milk supply for the consumer."

Along with UW-Madison, the project includes researchers from Cornell University, Penn State University, University of Washington, University of Michigan, University of Arkansas, North Carolina A&T University along with four USDA-ARS labs, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.