An Analysis of the Range Forage Situation
in the United States: 1989-2040

A Supporting Technical Document to the 1989 RPA Assessment

The Range Resource

Range vegetation is defined as grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, and shrubs. When the plant community is dominated by this type of vegetation, the land is referred to as rangeland. Rangelands predominate in the western United States as natural grasslands, shrublands, savannas, deserts, tundra, alpine, coastal marshes, and wet meadows. In the eastern United States, rangelands occur as tallgrass prairie, marshes, or wet meadows. Riparian ecosystems and plant communities dominated by introduced species are also considered rangeland. About 34% or 770 million acres of the total land base in the United States is rangeland.

Range vegetation is the building block for multiple resources outputs from rangelands and forests. Range outputs include native plants for agricultural, reclamation, or landscaping purposes; forage for wild and domestic herbivores; habitats for wildlife, threatened and endangered plants and animals, and wild horses and burros; water; recreation; and minerals.

Range condition is reported by various federal agencies, and in light of the different definitions used in the current inventories, range condition is discussed for each reporting agency. The Soil Conservation Service reported condition as a percentage of the total nonfederal rangeland base in 1982: excellent, 4%; good, 31%; fair, 47%; and poor, 17%. The Bureau of Land Management reported 1986 figures as follows: excellent, 4%; good, 30%; fair, 41%; and poor, 18%. The Forest Service reported ecological status on rangeland in the National Forest System (NFS): 15% at potential natural community, 31% in late-seral, 38% in mid-seral, and 15% in early-seral. In total, 80% of NFS lands were in satisfactory management for livestock.

Forage consumed by livestock can be interpreted as a lower estimate of the forage produced on rangelands and forest lands. A total of 10.1 million animal unit months (AUMs) of domestic livestock grazing were permitted on the NFS in 1985 and 1986. The BLM permitted 13.5 and 12.5 million AUMs in 1985 and 1986. Other public ownerships supplied less than 8 million AUMs.

Beef cattle and sheep represent the largest inventories of livestock that use grazed roughages in the United States. Dairy cattle, goats, horses, and hogs used grazed forage, but their consumption is less than 5% of the total forage consumed annually. Nationally, beef cattle consume 431 million AUMs; 86% comes from deeded nonirrigated grazing land, 7% from public land, 5% from crop residues, and 2% from irrigated pasture. The supply of grazed forage for sheep was different than for cattle, since only 60% came from deeded grazing land and 26% from public land.

Factors Affecting Forage Production

Forage, that part of vegetation that is available for consumption by wild and domestic herbivores, is produced on forest land, rangeland, pasture, hayland, cropland (after crop harvest), and cropland used for pasture. Management results are influenced by the ecology of of forest and range ecosystems. Past and current uses such as grazing, timber harvesting, mining, cropping and abandonment of cropland, and species introduction, have and will continue to have an effect on production from these lands. New technology, and eventually biotechnology, offers possibilities to enhance the future productivity of forest and rangelands. Economic factors, however, affect the implementation of range management technology, and the highest implementation rates have occurred for practices requiring minimal capital investment.

The management of forest and rangelands, government agricultural programs, and the environment interact to influence changes in land use across the United States. The availability of land for forage production for wild or domestic herbivores is a function of the demand for land for other uses. Conversion of forest and rangeland to a nonrevertible use such as urbanland decreases the land available for forage production and for wildlife habitat. Crop prices, the demand for cropland, government programs aimed at reducing crop surpluses, and variation in acres planted influence the amount of forage supplied by cropland, the conversion of rangeland to cropland, and the price of rangeland. At times, conversion of rangeland to cropland has been high, prompting legislation to regulate the flow of highly erodible land into crop production. Conditions favorable for rangeland and forest land conversion to cropland are not likely to re-occur in the immediate future because of the following factors: (1) less favorable cost/price relationships, (2) Food Security Act of 1985, and (3) changes in the federal tax code.

The supply of forage from public lands is set by multiple resource management objectives and public policy. Recent legislation has emphasized the multiple use of federal lands, the need to examine potential impacts of management, the management of wild horses and burros, and resource planning on federal lands. Thus, the quantity of forage produced on public lands will be a function of multi-resource management for wild and domestic grazing animals such as livestock, wildlife, and wild horses and burros, and other resource outputs such as timber, water, recreation, and scenic beauty. Multi-resource management requires a consideration of the tradeoffs in resource production.

Assessing the forage produced nationally is difficult because forage production is not inventoried. Use, not production, is quantified when forage consumption estimates are derived from herbivore inventories. Projections of forage production will be derived from projections of the likely future technological improvements in forage production, and projections of land available for forage production.

Factors Affecting the Demand for Range Forage

Forage is an intermediary good to the production of the final output, such as wildlife, livestock, wild horses and burros. The demand for the final output, the herbivore, can be used to derive the future demand for range forage. The demand for livestock is a function of society=s demand for market commodities such as meat, hides, wool, tallow, and secondary products. The most significant demand for livestock is meat.

The demand for meat is a function of export demand and U.S. consumption. U.S. meat exports were less than 1.5% of the total meat supplies in 1985. The international meat trade is projected to grow slowly, with many countries seeking self-sufficiency in meat production. The implication is that the demand for meat in the U.S. will be primarily a function of domestic consumption. The domestic demand for beef and lamb meat is related to consumer tastes and preferences, disposable income, changes in human population size and age distribution, and the relative prices of alternative foods, particularly other meats.

The cause for recent shifts and declines in per capita meat consumption is uncertain. Changes in sociological factors such as a more health conscious public, or economic factors such as record high levels of meat production, will require a few years of data before shifts in consumer demand are quantified. Population and income projections will determine the future demand for meat production.

The supply of meat is determined by the cost structure of production. The price of beef cattle or sheep depends on the interactions between the supply of and the demand for meat. The forage demand for livestock production depends on the technology associated with livestock production, the prices of alternative feeds, the interactions of forage with other inputs, and the price of livestock. The availability of grazed forage is critical in two segments of the beef cattle industry: breeding herds and stocker cattle production. For the sheep industry, the breeding herds are dependent on grazed roughages.

Grazed forage consumed by beef cattle and sheep is produced on deeded nonirrigated rangeland and pasture, publicly owned grazing land, deeded irrigated pasture, and from crop residues. The relative contribution of each forage source reflects the type of operation, type of animal, and the regional land use. Public grazing is more important in the West, whereas crop residue is more important in the East.

Forage demand could be greater if the lean beef production required only forage to finish animals. The recent trends are for a shorter period in the feedlot, which would imply less grain demand, rather than an increased forage demand. If per capita beef consumption increased and the increase was toward lean meat, then the forage demand would be greater to meet the increased production of beef and lamb meat.

Forage Supply/Demand Projections

The supply of forages at the national level will nearly meet the demand for grazed forages in 2040 if certain assumptions are met. The most critical of these assumptions is the continued increase in forage production on forest and rangelands, resulting from implementation of existing technology. Recent analyses of range improvement practices suggest that an improved livestock market will be necessary for the assumed application of this technology to occur. A critical assumption on the demand side is the constant per capita consumption for beef, veal, lamb, and mutton. A decline in per capita demand will, consequently, cause a decline in the demand for grazed forages. In addition, a shift in preference for leaner meat may cause of shift in the relative contributions of feed in the livestock production process. This feed shift may increase forage demand.

Projections at the regional level suggest that shifts in the relative contribution of forages will occur. Most notably is the decline of the relative contribution of public grazing. This decline will necessitate increased forage production on private lands if the projected forage demand is to be met. Projections of increased rangeland in the private sector could contribute to an increased supply, but forage production must also increase on a per acre basis to meet this derived demand.

The subtle relations between land available for forage production, production factors within regions, and shifts in livestock productions between regions were not analyzed in this assessment. This analysis assumes that cropland conservation similar to the late 1970s will not result in a resurgence of sodbusting. Nor is it assumed that urbanization will dramatically affect the national supply of rangeland.

Social, Economic, and Environmental Implications

The desirability of the projected future depends on society's social, economic, and environmental values concerning the range resource. Livestock enterprises and livestock grazing will continue to contribute to the social well-being of rural communities. The increased demand for recreation experiences will increase the interaction between ranching operations and urban dwellers. Concern for rangeland health will be heightened in the future as demands for wildlife habitat, wild horse and burro habitat, and habitat for threatened and endangered plants and animals are increasing along with livestock production on forest and rangelands.

Although the projected supply of forage appears adequate to meet the projected demand for livestock grazing, the distribution of grazed forages will likely vary from historic patterns. In light of the overall increase in forage demand, a decline in relative shares of public grazing and irrigated pasture suggests that livestock operations unable to buy, grow, or otherwise obtain forage for all seasons to replace public forage or irrigated pasture will not be part of the future growth in this industry. Thus, fewer livestock operations will be associated with public lands, with a potential decline in service industries associated with livestock production in these rural communities,. This decline, however, is tied to social pressure to remove livestock from public lands, which is related to an increased demand for recreation and wildlife outputs. Services associated with recreation will likely increase in these rural communities.

The enhanced rangeland productivity is projected to meet only the increased forage demand for livestock. Although domestic and wild grazers and browsers are often complementary users of rangeland, and thus, competition is no 100% temporally and spatially, grazing pressure from wildlife and livestock will increase in the future.

Recent historic trends in the values of private grazing land lease rates, prices for beef cattle and wool indicate a flat or declining trend. Trends over the period corresponding to the projection period of the assessment (50 years) indicate an increase of 1% in the prices of beef cattle, sheep, and lamb. Wool, hay, and corn prices show a greater fluctuation over this period with no clear trend.

Issues and Opportunities to Manage the Range Resources

Potential shifts in forage production could significantly affect the availability and use of forage by wild and domestic herbivores. Increasing demands for recreation and water production from public lands will influence range management. The expected rise in forage demand, coupled with relative declines in public forage and irrigated pasture, suggests that range management on private lands will intensify. A future in which resource use intensifies poses the possibility that our Nation's ecosystems will not likely improve in condition or productivity. The management issues associated with range resource are now broader than livestock grazing.

Management issues are grouped into four categories: the management of range vegetation; the management of grazers and browsers, both wild and domestic; social issues; and planning. Vegetation management issues revolved around providing the type of vegetation on public and private lands necessary for the production of multiple outputs. Problems ranged from inadequate seasonal forages for wild and domestic herbivores, the expired life-time of existing range improvements, reductions in habitat and forage availability, riparian vegetation, to the control of undesirable plants. Opportunities in vegetation management include grazing systems, stream management for riparian areas, the interseeding of native/introduced species to lengthen the seasonal availability of forage, and the use of biological control agents including livestock. The development and adoption of management practices and technologies will become significant factors in the future of the range resources. Research issues included the lack of knowledge about the ecology of vegetation and the need for technology transfer from research to management.

The need to provide food and habitat for wildlife, wild horses and burros, and livestock raises the issue of the management of grazers and browsers. The number of animals, the seasonal distribution of these animals, the availability of suitable grazers and browsers for each range ecosystem, and the management of these animals on public lands, are components of this management issue. Opportunities exist to increase the efficient use of range and forest vegetation and control undesirable plants through the management of multiple species of grazers and browsers.

The value of the natural environment is increasingly in the public's mind, and society's ideas about range will determine the future use of this resources. These social issues point to the need for increased communication between land managers and the public, and for adequately trained range managers. Opportunities exist to communicate the values received from a healthy plant association, the livestock role in maintaining the desired ecological status, and an understanding that proper livestock grazing practices can achieve desired resource benefits.

Whether legally mandated or profit motivated, the desire to produce a mix of resource outputs from forest and rangelands raises the issue of planning. Problems in planning include the design of management for multiple resources, coordination between adjacent or checkerboard ownerships, coordination of timing or spatial distribution of management activities, insufficient planning time, difficulties of quantifying the relation ship between current actions and future consequences , economic pressures to convert nonfederal agricultural lands to developed uses, and economic returns favoring commodity over noncommodity uses. Many successful examples can be cited where diverse, and often conflicting interests have reached consensus in planning and implementing multiple uses.

Research is needed to increase, through cost effectiveness measures, the output of multiple resources from rangelands and forests. Methods are needed to manipulate the plant community through biological mechanisms. Long-term productivity will be sustained only with an improved understanding of nutrient cycling processes, critical physiological characteristics of important forest and range plants, and the response of ecosystems to disturbance.

An understanding is needed of the cumulative effects of management within a watershed, forest, or a region. The future size, shape, and distribution of forest and rangeland area will be affected by land management decisions, and how these decisions are affected by zoning, taxes, population growth, and regulations is not well understood. Smaller parcels and expansion of the urban/wildlife interface may reduce wildlife habitat area, create islands of suitable forage for grazing, create barriers to wildlife migration, increase sediment losses, and complicate wildlife control problems. Research is needed to determine the long-term trends of land use changes and to quantify the potential effects on rangeland production, wildlife, rural services, and economics. Toward this end, a need exists to develop high-quality data bases, information management systems, and decision models to permit more knowledgeable policy discussion on land use alternatives.

Management obstacles are those factors that prevent implementation of effective management opportunities for the range resource. The most common obstacles identified by range managers were lack of knowledge, inadequate funding, inadequate staffing, and lack of qualified personnel. The actualization of the opportunities for range management requires a commitment of those involved in natural resource management.

Joyce, Linda A. 1989. An Analysis of the Range Forage Situation in the United States: 1989-2040. General Technical Report RM-180. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Range and Forest Experiment Station. 136 p.