Complex forage mixtures (mixtures of more than three species) have been researched as a means to increase yield and sustain forage production in pastures of the northeastern United States. However, little research has focused on the economic impact of forage mixture complexity and grazing strategy on a whole-farm scale. We used the Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM) to examine the short- (2-yr) and long-term (25-yr) performance and economic returns of four pasture mixtures (two, three, five, and seven species of grasses and legumes) and grass monocultures grazed according to plant morphology or canopy height criteria. For both 2- and 25-yr analyses, reduced pasture production in the morphology-based grazing strategy led to a decrease in net return compared to the height-based grazing strategy. Both analyses showed that the differences in net return were mainly due to seed, fertilizer, and feed costs, pasture production, and the income from excess forage sales. Production was more dependable for the height-based grazing strategy compared with the morphology-based strategy. Complex mixtures generated greater and more consistent net returns compared with either the simple mixtures or grass monoculture. More importantly, when comparing the difference in net return obtained by a particular forage treatment in dry and wet years, the net return using complex mixtures was reduced by only 25 to 27%. On the other hand, reductions in net return ranged from 36% for a three-species mixture to 55% for grass monoculture. For dairy pastures, complex mixtures are a useful alternative to reduce production variability in dry years.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agronomy and Crop Science