Iowa lost 21 percent of its pasture base from 2007 to 2012, according to an Iowa Beef Center (IBC) publication released last fall and reported by Dan Loy, the center's director, in their most recent Growing Beef newsletter. During this same time frame, the Iowa beef cow herd declined by only 2 percent, significantly less than the national beef cow herd downsizing of 13 percent.
The drop of pasture acres was the result of pasturelands being converted to row crop production during the recent period of record high commodity prices. Given that the price situation has changed, it remains to be seen if at least some of those acres will be converted back.
Loy points out the dilemma of squeezing basically the same number of cows on significantly less grass pasture, and here are some of the options being addressed and studied by the IBC:
- The economic viability of converting row cropland back to grass.
- The use of recreational or government contract lands to limited grazing periods during the growing season.
- The intensification of grazing management on current pastureland. In other words, getting more out of what currently exists.
- Supplementation strategies to stretch available pasture resources.
- Raising the cow-calf herd in confinement.
Recently, a study was initiated by the IBC to evaluate all these systems with 24 producer cooperators. The goal is to determine what makes each of the alternative systems successful and profitable. To read more about the IBC and their efforts, connect to their website at http://www.iowabeefcenter.org.