Pasture Assessment in the Northeast United States
Matt A. Sanderson, Sarah C. Goslee, and James B. Cropper
USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, Building 3702 Curtin Road, University Park, PA. USDA-NRCS East NTSC, Greensboro, NC 27401.
Many livestock producers have intensified management of pastures in the Northeast and need assessment and monitoring tools to determine how management has influenced pastures. The Pasture Condition Score (PCS) system, developed by the NRCS, was used to assess 108 pastures on 31 farms across the Northeast. We examined the applicability of the system to identify potential problems with its uses and obtain a snapshot of pastureland status.
None of the pastures evaluated scored in the lowest category (PCS \< 15), and only a few pastures scored in the highest category (PCS >45). More than 40% of the pastures scored in the category where only minor changes to management were needed (PCS = 36-45) and another 44% fell into the category where some improvements were needed (PCS = 26-35). About 15% of pastures scored 16-25, indicating immediate management changes were needed.
The indicator “percent legume” scored lowest of all the indicators. The low rating for legume content suggests that producers should focus management on establishing and maintaining legumes, which contribute valuable N and high quality forage to the pasture system.
Pasture condition score was negatively related to plant species richness. Pastures with the highest species richness generally had many weedy species. This indicates that focusing on increasing the number of species in a pasture without regard to the species composition may not be wise.
The PCS system was readily implemented on most pastures. Producers would benefit by observing individual pasture condition indicators at regular intervals to track trends and inform management decisions.