International Congress

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

September 26, 1997

UW-RF Professor Attends International Congress

A UW-River Falls agronomy professor was a presenting author at an international conference aimed at finding ways to effectively manage the world's natural grassland and tame forage production.

Professor Lou Greub of the plant & earth science department co-authored three scientific poster papers and was the presenting author for two of them at the XVIII International Grassland Congress in Canada.

The IGC began 72 years ago and is dedicated to seeking solutions to the challenges relating to the world's natural grassland and tame forage production. Over 1,100 delegates from 93 countries attended this year's Congress that began in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and ended 12 days later in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The IGC is held every four years at different locations around the world. The previous IGC was held in New Zealand and the next one in 2001 will be in Brazil.

Along with university, government and agribusiness personnel, dairy, beef and sheep farmers, ranchers and forage producers from several countries attended and participated in many of the formal programs of the conference.

More than 40 percent of the world's land area is classified as natural grazing land, and about one-fourth of the cultivated land produces tame forage crops in countries such as the United States. Consequently, over one-half of the world's agricultural area produces forage of some type.

The productivity and use of forage resources have a great impact on the economic and nutritional status of millions of people. Inappropriate use of natural grasslands for activities like overgrazing, and failure to include forage crops in a cropping system on hilly land, which is present in many parts of Wisconsin, can have serious undesirable environmental effects.

During the conference, participants went on half-day mid-Congress tours. They traveled between Winnipeg and Saskatoon and were introduced to Canadian forage-based agriculture, commercial seed production and some of the picturesque parkland sites of central Canada.

On Greub's tour, he visited seed production farms, cattle ranches, an elk farm and provincial research stations.

Also, half-day local excursions out of both Winnipeg and Saskatoon provided opportunities for participants to visit over 30 sites of technical, cultural or historic interest. Among these were seed-processing plants, conservation projects and nature centers, potash mines, an ethanol plant and a Hutterite colony.

One of the goals of the Congress was to facilitate the transfer of technology and research results to developing countries. Meat and milk products account for only about 20 percent of the total food protein produced in the developing world.

"A lot can be gained in the struggle to increase the world's food supply and fend off starvation by managing more effectively the forage resources for meat and milk production in developing countries," Greub says.

The technical paper and invited speaker portion of the Congress was divided into 30 different themes to accommodate all facets of grasslands and forages. Themes encompassed all aspects of forage production and use in both temperate and tropical grassland agriculture, including environmental concerns and economic impacts.

Two papers co-authored by Greub reported on the results of a research project titled "Integrated dairy waste management, water quality, and crop utilization system." In this study, Greub and UW-RF soils Professor Don Taylor worked with colleagues at the University of Minnesota-St. Paul, the University of Minnesota experiment station in Waseca, Minn., and the research staff at the Cenex/Land O'Lakes Answer Farm in Webster City, Iowa.

Uniquely, this group's study may be one of the first, if not the first, U.S. Department of Agriculture funded research project involving the cooperative efforts of state universities and a large, private agricultural business, says Greub.

The study evaluated the use of reed canarygrass as an environmentally safe means of using large quantities of liquid dairy manure. Similar stands of the grass were established at the UW- RF Lab Farm I, which is a dairy farm; in Waseca, Minnesota; and in Webster City, Iowa.

Identical liquid manure and fertilizer nitrogen treatments were then applied at the three locations over a two-year period. Data were taken on the amounts of nitrogen applied, the yield and nitrogen content of the harvested reed canarygrass forage, and the nitrate content in the soil and soil water under each treatment.

One objective of the study was to relate manure application rates to the losses of nitrogen, in the form of nitrates, leaching into the soil with the downward movement of soil water. Such nitrate compounds have the potential to find their way into the groundwater and contaminate drinking water supplies.

Basically, the research team found that a good stand of reed canarygrass can effectively use the nitrogen from up to 40,000 gallons of dairy slurry per acre per growing season without nitrate loss into the ground water on the silty clay loam soils of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

However, on sandy soils, which can be found at the River Falls site, the maximum rate of manure application would have to be restricted to 30,000 gallons or less to prevent nitrate losses into the ground water.

The results of this work can be used extensively for dairy farmers and other liquid manure generators in many states that have soils and a growing season similar to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

While at the conference, Greub discovered that a group from Sweden was presenting a series of papers on the use of reed canarygrass biomass for fuel and the production of pulp for paper and other products.

Greub's third paper given at the Congress reported on the results of research at the UW-RF Mann Valley Farm involving the establishment of birdsfoot trefoil-grass mixtures for pasture use.

He notes that it was interesting to find that some of the questions, problems, and issues that concern the United States are also of concern in other parts of the world. Papers and discussion sessions addressing environmental concerns generated a lot of interest. Delegates from Finland, New Zealand and Great Britain said that animal rights issues were hot topics in their countries.

Greub has never had the opportunity to attend an International Grassland Congress because of teaching commitments and travel costs.

"This one was during the summer when I'm not teaching and was closer than it ever has been in the past and probably ever will be again in the future, at least while I am around," Greub says. "I found it to be one of the most interesting, stimulating, and educational conferences I have ever attended."

At UW-RF, Greub teaches courses in forage crop production, pasture management and several other agronomic subjects. Currently, he serves as national chair of the American Society of Agronomy Division C-3: Crop Ecology, Production and Management. His participation in the Congress was made possible by funds from the Faculty Professional Development Grant Program; the Rothermel Agronomy Professorship; and the Dairy Waste Management, Water Quality, and Crop Utilization project.

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