Water Resources

Indicator Definition

The volume of water used by a sector for each process, and any impacts on water quality by a sector for each process.

Why is this indicator important to the cow-calf sector?

Managed grazing can reduce the amount of water required to sprout and grow plants, extend the growing phase of those plants, and increase the diversity of plant species in the pasture. It can also increase water infiltration into the soil, slowing run off, reducing erosion, and storing water in the ground, which extends the life of springs, creeks, and other riparian areas. Many of the same practices that produce healthier pastures have been shown to protect the quality of the water and integrity of riparian areas.

Metric

Is a grazing management plan (or equivalent) being implemented that maintains or improves water resources?

Why did we choose this metric?

The decisions and actions that cattle producers make in the management of their lands directly influence the health of those lands. Managed grazing plays a key role in maintaining healthy grasslands which provide important benefits for the water quality and quantity interacting with that grassland. The grazing management plans (GMPs) are key tools for producers to use to achieve their goals by optimizing the use of land and water resources relative to many factors. Implemented GMPs can provide the benefits outlined above for water resources while also delivering co-benefits for the land resources, air and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions indicators, and the overall performance of the grasslands.

Desired Outcomes

The use of GMPs is a powerful means of achieving:

  • Improved ground cover and root systems of forages, growing or dormant
  • A slowed rate of water runoff following precipitation events
  • Increased rates of water infiltration into soil
  • Reduced soil erosion
  • Increased water availability in plant rooting zones and percolation into the water table or aquifer
  • Protected and enhanced flows in groundwater dependent springs, creeks, and other riparian areas

Why do these outcomes matter?

Many of the same practices that improve forage production have been shown to protect the supply and quality of the water and the integrity of riparian areas. Maintaining healthy pastures and grasslands has important benefits for water quality and quantity. Grazing refines and maintains this ecological service, both ecologically and economically.

Success Criteria

Increasing the number of U.S. cow-calf producers who implement a GMP (or equivalent) that maintains or improves water resources.

How does this metric continuously improve beef sustainability?

A GMP can assist a producer to better plan for different scenarios (precipitation, forage, markets, etc.) to support adaptable decision-making. For example, a GMP appropriately tailored for a given cow-calf operation resource base and executed successfully can optimize forage production, improve ecological function, and promote healthy riparian areas.

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