Approximately 20 million acres of Kansas agricultural lands are devoted to perennial forage production (rangeland, introduced forage pastures, and harvested forages), and an additional 3-6 million acres are used for annual forage production (including small grain and summer annual pasture, crop residue, and corn silage) each year. These forage resources support approximately 1.5 million beef cows and calves, 0.8 million dairy cows, 4-5 million yearling cattle and 200,000 sheep and goats. Livestock production from these resources is a major component of the Kansas economy, comprising nearly 50% of the agricultural receipts. Much of the land used for native and tame pasture and hay production is not suited for production of other crops. Land currently in grain production may be better suited due to soil type and climate for forage. Additional acres of highly erodible cropland are being reseeded to perennial grasses each year through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), cost-sharing programs, and private funds. For the fields to stay in permanent cover at the termination of the program, production of forages must provide a reasonable return to the landowner.
The overall objective of the Range and Forage program at KSU is to help Kansas land owners and forage producers improve the utilization and conversion of grazed and harvested forages for efficient, environmentally, ecologically and economically sustainable production. The program is comprehensive and includes basic and applied research, graduate training, and technology transfer/extension components. Some specific objectives include: develop crop production systems focusing on converting traditional dryland small grain and summer row crop acreage to production systems centered on annual summer and winter forages to improve economic stability and agronomic productivity; develop systems utilizing crop residues as part of a total beef production system; develop grazing systems for both cow-calf and stocker enterprises that will increase beef production and sustain the productivity of the forage resource; integrate multiple perennial forages, annual forages and crop residues to extend the grazing season; protect the resource base from the invasion of exotic and native species such as sericea lespedeza, Caucasian bluestem, purple loosestrife, and eastern redcedar; develop efficient production systems to produce high quality harvested forages; preserve the diversity of plant and animal species found in this unique ecological region; protect the resource as a source of high quality water to Kansas rivers and streams.