published in


July 2015

UF IFAS Range Cattle REC - Part of the USDA LTAR Network

by Raoul Boughton

Ona Report - Dr. Raoul Boughton

For questions or comments regarding this publication contact: Dr. Raoul Boughton, University of Florida, IFAS

Agriculture faces tremendous challenges in meeting multiple diverse societal goals, including: 1) a safe and plentiful food supply; 2) climate change adaptation/mitigation; 3) supplying sources of bioenergy; 4) improving water/air/soil quality; and 5) maintaining biodiversity. The newly formed USDA Long Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network enables long-term, trans-disciplinary science across farm resource regions to address these challenges.

In 2014, the Range Cattle Research and Education Center (RCREC) in partnership with the MacArthur AgroEcology Research Center/ Archbold Biological Station was selected as a joint site representing sub-tropical pastoral systems in the recently launched USDA LTAR network.   The joint site represents the only sub-tropical system in the network and is one of only two non-USDA Agricultural Research Services sites to be included in the network, the other being the Kellogg’s Biological Station in Michigan.  The sites were selected based on representation of agricultural production areas, diversity of ongoing research, and commitment to long term research in food production and agro-ecology.  The distribution of the network is shown in Figure 1.  Selection of sites occurred during two phases, 10 initial sites in 2011, followed by an additional 8 sites in 2012.  The first 10 sites were funded during 2014 and it is hoped the additional sites will soon receive funds to initiate network objectives.  It is an honor that the RCREC partnership was selected to help meet the goal of the LTAR.

 “The goal of this research network is to ensure sustained crop and livestock production and ecosystem services from agro-ecosystems, and to forecast and verify the effects of environmental trends, public policies, and emerging technologies.”
LTAR Shared Research Strategy (SRS)

Representatives from each of the 18 LTAR network gathered at the USDA offices in Beltsville, Maryland, 31st March to 2nd April, for a 3 day workshop to develop two strategic objectives. The first objective was development of a standardized biophysical data collection and instrumentation that would be maintained at each site across the network to observe long term changes in agro-ecosystem conditions.  For example, methods were discussed on how to measure climate, soil health, biodiversity, greenhouse gases, and carbon balance. The second was to define coordination of network based experimental research to advance agricultural production while maintaining ecosystem services.  The goal is to compare current “conventional” agricultural practice to a new “aspirational” practice and demonstrate improvement in production and sustainability of ecosystem services.

I represented UF and the RCREC at the network workshop, bringing expertise on wildlife and natural resources. Dr. Betsey Boughton and Dr. Hilary Swain represented Archbold/MAERC. Dr. Silviera and I are the UF RCREC LTAR representatives and in the next few months are installing the network defined instrumentation tower that measures, water, energy and gas fluxes in-situ at the RCREC.  Additionally, the LTAR, in cooperation with the Florida Agriculture Experiment Station, Office for the Dean of Research, funded a new gas chromatograph in Dr. Silviera’s program to measure multiple greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. 

Our network experimental research questions will focus on 1) increasing production in improved pasture systems using appropriate fertilizer and intensive rotational grazing, and 2) seasonal fire regimes to improve native systems to increase both forage productivity but also improve other ecosystem services, such as, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and wildlife populations.  The UF-RCREC/Archbold LTAR team hopes to start implementing the experimental research projects in 2016.

Map showing USDA Long-Term Agro-Ecosystem Research Sites and Farm Research Regions