Livestock forage, use of sequestered carbon, and even ecosystem inhabitants such as lesser prairie chickens all stand to gain from ongoing studies at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Southern Plains Experimental Range (SPER) near Fort Supply, Okla.
The range is managed by the ARS Southern Plains Range Research Station (SPRRS) in Woodward, and spreads over 4,300 acres. This unique outdoor laboratory plays a vital role in helping SPRRS scientists develop integrated forage systems that provide productive, year-round livestock feeding, according to research leader Phillip Sims.
It also contributes toward meeting a wider SPRRS goal: including the Southern Plains' soils, plants, insects and animals in a comprehensive plan for linking and improving the region's agriculture, ecology and culture.
According to ARS rangeland scientist Robert Gillen, SPER's size and diversity allow for large-scale, real-time testing of management strategies and forage germplasm developed by scientists at Woodward and other locations. One program there is focused on determining the right amount of livestock and wildlife grazing needed to promote proper cycling of minerals, including carbon.
ARS is developing a national estimate of how much carbon U.S. cropland and grazingland soils are currently storing in what is, in effect, a net carbon bank. Monitoring carbon cycling may be a step toward a system in which farmers and ranchers are paid for the amount of carbon their land can store. It's thought that with improved management, farms and rangelands could store enough carbon to partially quell climate change, which many believe is brought on by increased greenhouse gases.
In another project, SPRRS scientists seek to manage grazing so that the prairie ecosystem--including one particular near-endangered species, the lesser prairie chicken, Tympanuchus pallidicinctus--is not only protected, but thrives.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
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