Sustainability of ranches and rural economies in the Great Plains of western North America is contingent on the economic vitality of beef production in a changing climate.
Our objective was to measure and compare the interannual variability of beef production (kg/ha) and net returns ($/ha) over the past 15 years (2003–2017) from grazing yearlings at three diﬀerent grazing intensities (light, moderate and heavy) on semiarid shortgrass steppe from mid-May to October. Four useful insights emerged: 1) A ranking of interannual variability, from lowest to highest, reveals that beef production had the lowest coeﬃcient of variation (CV=17–29 per cent), followed by aboveground net primary production (ANPP, 26–32 per cent), spring/early summer precipitation (36 per cent) and net revenue (107–139 per cent). 2) Beef production increased with grazing intensity during average and wet years, but not during dry years. Beef production increased from early August to early September but became negligible from early September to the end of the grazing season.
Overall, beef production and net revenue were 41 per cent and 38 per cent greater for the heavy grazing intensity compared to the recommended moderate grazing intensity, respectively. 3) Removing yearlings from pastures in early September rather than the traditional October timing would provide opportunities for ranchers to increase net returns. 4) Forage production, estimated through remote sensing information, was positively associated with beef production, but with a steeper slope for the heavy grazing intensity, indicating greater sensitivity at this grazing intensity level.
Economic sustainability of beef production in this rangeland ecosystem is challenged by high interannual variability in net revenues.
This variability suggests that ranchers should focus on understanding agricultural economic principles, livestock marketing, and available options for reducing price risk.
These eﬀorts would enhance both the economic sustainability of individual ranching operations and rural economies.
CATTLE GRAZING GRAZING INTENSITY LIVESTOCK GAINS PROFITABILITY SHORT GRASS STEPPE MODIS