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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Improving Sustainability of Forage-Based Production Systems

Location: Forage-Animal Production Research

Project Number: 5042-32630-002-06
Project Type: Specific Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: May 01, 2013
End Date: Apr 30, 2018

Objective:
Objective 1. Improve pasture productivity and animal performance while reducing fertilizer inputs on southeastern pastures by developing optimal combinations of forage legumes and grasses. Objective 2: Improve the productivity, quality and persistence of forage grasses by developing and applying a better understanding of the interactive mechanisms between endophytes, host plants and environmental factors. Objective 3: Develop guidelines for managing animal-plant-soil characteristics to improve soil quality and reduce the risks of climatic variations on southeastern pasture productivity and animal performance. Objective 4: Determine forage nutrient and forage plant secondary metabolite effects on ruminant animal to improve the health, well being and forage utilization efficiencies of ruminants.

Approach:
Forage systems provide low cost feed, conserve soil and water resources, and mitigate man’s impact on the environment. However, basic biological information is limited on how plant metabolites affect animal performance, health, and wellbeing. Fundamental information concerning how these metabolites affect grazing animals has only recently become a focus. As such, the available information for predicting animal performance in response to plant nutrients under varying environmental, genetic, physiological status, and management conditions is of limited use. Even more problematic is the poor understanding of the effects of plant nutraceuticals and anti-quality factors on nutrient intake, metabolism and assimilation for product, health maintenance, or work by the animal. To increase the sustainability of forage-based enterprises, it is essential that a better understanding be developed of the fundamental biological processes underlying the interactions between the animal, plant, and environment. Furthermore, little is known about the impact that forage and/or fungal endophyte metabolites have on their pasture ecosystems. Gaps in our current knowledge are hindering researchers’ abilities to predict and select best combinations of forages and management systems for use by various forage-animal production enterprises. Aiding researchers to develop new forage varieties, forage systems, and management recommendations will require an improved understanding of both metabolite (plant and fungal) profiles and their biological functions at the molecular, cellular, and tissue levels. Such understanding of metabolites, molecular mechanisms, and whole-organism responses, and of their impact on plant quality, persistence, and production, is necessary for improving sustainability of forage-based enterprises. This Specific Cooperative Agreement (SCA), through the development and utilization of cutting-edge technologies, real world testing, and technology transfer, proposes to help ascertain the complex interactions within the animal-plant-environment interface to improve forage production and persistence as well as animal performance, health, and well being. Research is focused on the utilization and production of the predominant forage (tall fescue) in the transition zone and its alternatives and/or companion species. Accomplishing these objectives of the SCA will improve productivity and sustainability of forage-based enterprises through more reliable predictions on the impacts of management and environment on animal health and performance.

Last Modified: 12/22/2014
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