Editor’s Note: The following information is part of a presentation by Gregg Simonds of Open Range Consulting for the NM State Land Board and the NM Healthy Soil Working Group. Click here to learn more about the NM Range Productivity Study.
There is a common misconception that it is expensive to improve soil health and land productivity, particularly in areas that don’t receive much rainfall. But a presentation by Gregg Simonds shows how a small investment in infrastructure can help improve grazing management which in turn increases soil cover through more plants establishing. Likewise, with a greater variety and productivity of species, grazing seasons lengthen and plants are more productive resulting in increased stocking rates, better conception rates, more pounds per calf, which result in an almost a doubling of gross revenues per acre for New Mexico ranchers.
The data Gregg was reporting on was from continued study of the JX Ranch in eastern New Mexico. Gregg is a long time rancher, consultant, and researcher, and for the last three years he has been doing soil sampling and a unique monitoring process called Earth Sense Technology as part of a continuation of a study that looked at the difference in plant productivity, ground cover, and soil carbon on ranches who have been practicing Holistic Management for 10 years or more versus those who are doing conventional grazing versus areas where there is no grazing.
This study showed that there was an average of 27% increase in productivity on the ranches that had been using types of managed grazing focusing on time and density of animals. As you can see from the chart below, the result of that management practice is a stocking rate of 27 acres/cow (different ranches using these practices varied from 25-32 acres/cow) while the area average is 50 acres/cow. This means the JX Ranch has an 85% increase in stocking rate over the area average stocking rate.
Likewise, the New Mexico (NM) average of calving rate is 88%, but with improved management, JX Ranch has experienced 97% calving. Moreover, the average pound of calf to cow in NM is 440 pounds, while the JX Ranch averages 485 pounds. Assuming a calf price of $1.40/pound, then the average NM gross revenue per cow would be $616 while on the JX Ranch it would be $670. With an increased stocking rate for JX, their gross revenue per acre is $25.15 while the average gross revenue per acre in NM is $12.32.
In order to improve grazing management there was necessary infrastructure development of water tanks, troughs, fencing, etc. that averaged $35/acre. With an assumed 30-year life span for those assets that means they cost $1.07/acre. So when that is removed from the gross revenue of $25.15 that takes the gross revenue to $24.08 or an almost doubling of gross revenue/acre (95% increase) from the NM average.
Financial Comparison of Different Grazing Practices
|Continuous Grazing||No Grazing||Managed Time/Density Grazing|
|Pound of Calf||500||500|
|% of calves/cow||88%||97%|
|Pound of calf to cow||440||485|
|Tons of carbon/acre||5.2||6.8||7.4|
In addition, soil testing showed a difference in tons of soil carbon per acre depending on the type of grazing practices or land treatments. A continuously grazed land measured 5.2 tons of carbon per acre, while a non-grazed/rested area had 6.8 tons, and planned grazing area had 7.4 tons.
Moreover, water infiltration rates on the JX Ranch are four times that of the continuously grazed land. By using the increase of 2.2 tons of carbon per acre as noted in the table, that carbon acts as a sponge in the soil and increases the storage capacity of the soil to hold an additional 7,000 gallons per acre says Gregg.
Given that water security is the greatest issue facing NM agriculture, it is critical that NM producers developing their grazing management to improve soil carbon. Increased soil carbon improves water infiltration and storage which leads to more plants, plant diversity, and soil cover. Bare ground creates a downward trend in soil health and ecosystem so it is the leverage point that you must control through grazing management. In turn reduced bare ground leads to improved profitability.
If you are a New Mexico rancher who would like to improve your grazing management, contact Holistic Management International for grant-funded technical assistance or consider registering for HMI’s online Holistic Grazing course. Click here to receive a free Grazing Planning e-book.
Thanks to the Thornburg Foundation, the NM Healthy Soil Working Group, and the NM Coalition to Enhance Working Lands for their support of this case study.
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