Over the past six months, the Noble Research Institute has partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to test the development of tools to help consultation efforts with agricultural producers. These tools utilize data and information brought together from multiple locations to inform us on stocking rates, forage suitability groups, soils and many more aspects of grazing land management through NRCS's Grazingland Resource Analysis System (GRAS). The development of GRAS was a collaborative effort between NRCS and Colorado State University's Object Modeling System Laboratory.
This first project's goal was to create a tool to be used within Noble's Ag Database to more quickly and accurately calculate initial stocking rates. Historically, this process would take numerous hours to complete due to data and information being spread out in many locations. However, with the workflows developed through GRAS, this process can now be easily completed in a few minutes, and stakeholders in the consulting process will have more time to focus on conversations around planning.
So how does this work? Without getting too technical, Noble's implementation of these GRAS services starts with a property boundary that is used as a cookie cutter to extract information about soils and ecological sites. Once the data is extracted, it is further divided into pastures or grazing units, usually based on fields. At this point, a user can decide to segment pastures individually by ecological site or to leave them whole. If segmented by ecological site, the planner would work through each grazing unit on an ecological site basis to identify the representative plant community and the measured forage production. If the planner decides to work using the pasture-based approach, they provide the dominant plant community and the measured forage production within that pasture. Finally, after that information is gathered and provided, the planner decides the appropriate grazing efficiency. Then all the information is used to determine the quick stocking rate for that property.
Ultimately, this tool provides our consultants with the ability to more quickly create initial stocking rates for producers with whom we work. By adding new technologies into our workflows, we can decrease the time consultants spend behind the desk working through spreadsheets and data. Overall, quick stocking rates are only the beginning, and we hope to continue to deliver similar tools to our consultants to help them engage more producers as efficiently as possible.