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OSU receives $1 million USDA grant to tackle beef cattle climate adaptability

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Oklahoma State University has been awarded a $1 million grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to provide some of the first climate adaptation tools for beef producers in the form of water management resources.

“The ultimate goal is to develop beef cattle and production systems that are more readily adaptable to the negative effects of drought,” said Megan Rolf, an animal scientist with OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources who is the project’s principal investigator.

One of the primary emphases of the project is the development of a water management resources tool, working in conjunction with the Oklahoma Mesonet.

“Oklahoma beef producers already have access to a ‘cattle comfort index’ through the Mesonet system,” Rolf said. “This allows them to fine-tune operational management decisions related to animal well-being, and to essentially do so in real time, as well as forecast possible future concerns.”

Rolf said a major short-term objective is to expand the “cattle comfort index” so the information provided is usable by beef producers no matter where they reside in the nation. Longer term, the project scientists will focus on the use of genetic selection tools to increase the adaptability of beef cattle to climate variability.

“Given the world’s ever-increasing population, it is more important than ever to develop and promote beef production systems that are economically sustainable for both producers and consumers while also fostering environmental stewardship,” said Clint Krehbiel, co-principal investigator and research coordinator for the OSU Department of Animal Science.

The $1 million project is the first of its kind, focusing on the measurement of water intake efficiency at the same time researchers are measuring feed efficiency on a large scale.

“Improved management tools are vital to allow beef producers to better manage operational risk and existing natural resources,” Rolf said. “An important aspect of this study is how scientists are taking research results and tying them directly into decision-support tools that producers can use.”

More than half of agricultural cash receipts in Oklahoma are from cattle and calves, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service data.

“Oklahoma is the nation’s fifth-leading cattle-producing state and is one of the southern Great Plains states suffering through historic drought in recent years, underscoring the importance of research that enhances beef cattle production,” Krehbiel said. “Improving the quality of life for beef producers can have a significant positive effect on them and their families, and by extension the communities in which they live.”

NIFA made the award through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) funding opportunity in the Climate Variability and Change challenge area. NIFA's climate work is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural and forest production systems and preparing the nation's agriculture and forests to adapt to changing climates.

AFRI is NIFA's flagship competitive grant program established under the 2008 Farm Bill and supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

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