Opportunities and challenges of grass-finishing on desert pastures

TitleOpportunities and challenges of grass-finishing on desert pastures
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsAney S, Hurst Z, Torell GL
Conference NameSociety for Range Management 2022 Annual Conference (oral presentation)
Date Published3/30/2022
ARIS Log Number393240
Keywordsdesert, grass-finishing, pastures

We are applying survey and modeling approaches to understand the potential for grass finishing beef cattle in desert agroecosystems  under future climate expectations. First, we sought to understand the characteristics of current operations and how climate change may impact grass-finishing in the region. We inventoried and surveyed grass-fed beef operations in nine states in the Southwest and Southern Plains and created a web-based map to evaluate their spatial distribution. Survey results showed that: a) grass-fed producers market their cattle in a diversity of ways, although freezer beef was the most ubiquitous, b) producers perceive a number of benefits and challenges involved in raising grass-fed beef and c) some types of decision support tools are clearly preferred over others. The most commonly indicated need for information was regarding drought adaptation and management. Based upon these survey results and key informant interviews, we have initiated two follow-up surveys to better understand the key practices, economics, and market factors influencing viability of grass finishing in the region from the perspective of both producers and processors. Survey data will help parameterize regional socioecological models that characterize current and future grass-finishing  potential in western U.S. rangelands, and the role that grass-finishing may have in climate adaptation. A first step in modeling has entailed a preliminary ranch-level economic optimization model that can estimate the profitability of ranching operations under climatic change in New Mexico, with downscaled climate projections used to estimate profitability across cattle genetics and climatic conditions.