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RANGETEK, a rancher's best friend.

RANGETEK, a Rancher's Best Friend

Protecting rangelands from overgrazing by cattle may become easier, thanks to a new computer program called RANGETEK. The user-friendly program helps ranchers determine the optimum number of cattle to graze on a specific range.

Many factors influence range stocking rates. For instance, the types and amounts of forage grasses, like bluebunch wheatgrass of Idaho fescue, affect the rate, as does how much it rained before the growing season, says J. Ross, Wight, one of the program's designers. Wight, a range scientist, works at the ARS Watershed Management Research Unit in Boise, Idaho.

"Based on past weather records, the program can tell you how much forage will likely be available during the upcoming season in a specific region. That information helps determine the number of cattle that can safely graze there," says Wight.

Grazing too few cattle when there's plenty of forage cuts into a rancher's income, but grazing too many, too long, can wipe out the best forage species. Overgrazed land is also more susceptible to erosion, he adds.

RANGETEK prompts users for information about soil type, the predominant plant species, and the length of the growing season on the range in question - information all resource managers have. Armed with long-term weather records available from weather stations, along with the soil moisture status at the beginning of the growing season, the program can forecast the likelihood of having a good, bad, or average year, in terms of plant growth.

Soil moisture and weather data files are currently being developed for range sites in Idaho, specifically for RANGETEK. However, the program can be used wherever the data can be measured.

Another option is entering actual values for temperature and rainfall every week during the season, which gives a real-time simulation of soil water content as plants grow. The resource manager could then keep tabs on the current range conditions, without having to actually measure the soil moisture content.

The program would give resource managers enough advance information so that they could move cattle from a pasture in time to prevent damage due to overgrazing.

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management and the USDA's Forest Service, which controls most of the publicly owned land suitable for grazing, will likely find the new technology beneficial, says Wight.

This spring, Wight, along with scientists from USDA's Soil Conservation Service and state extension personnel, will use RANGETEK to forecast forage yields in key range sites across Idaho. The results should help refine the program's accuracy and provide detailed information on the impact of a potential drought in Idaho's rangelands.
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Title Annotation:range management computer program
Author:Corliss, Julie
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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