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S.D. Producers’ Willingness To Adopt Patch Burn Grazing vs. Winter Patch Grazing

Small herd of mixed cattle grazing rangeland in late fall.

Written collaboratively by Tong Wang, Kenneth C. Olson, Adele Harty, Patricia S. Johnson and Iftekhar Chowdhury.

Rangeland management plays an important role in promoting diversity of plant and wildlife species. Uniform rangeland utilization, when used on a large scale has detrimental effects on the richness of wildlife habitat structure (Derner et al., 2009). Therefore, to preserve bird and wildlife habitat, it is important for landowners and managers to adopt grassland management practices that increase heterogeneity in grass structure and composition.

Patch-burn grazing (PBG) and winter patch grazing (WPG) are heterogenous rangeland management practices that aim to increase diversity of grass composition and structure in a way that benefits wildlife and maintains livestock production. Under PBG, a prescribed burn is conducted on a different section of the landscape every year so that cattle selectively graze recently burned portions of a pasture, allowing grass in unburned or previously burned sections to recover, whereas WPG utilizes heavy grazing pressure on a different section of the rangeland every year when vegetation is dormant. Due to risks of legal liability and temporal forage shortage, producers in semiarid regions are generally reluctant to adopt PBG (Toledo et al., 2014). In comparison to PBG, WPG creates the desirable grassland heterogeneity through heavy grazing rather than prescribed fire, and therefore could be more acceptable by landowners and managers in South Dakota.

    Color-coded map of South Dakota showing producers’ willingness to adopt patch burn grazing at county level. For a complete description, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-4792.
    Figure 1. Producers’ willingness to adopt patch burn grazing at county level. Note: 0 = Will not adopt at $30/acre, 1 = Will adopt at $30/acre, 2 = Will adopt at $20/acre and 3= Will adopt at $5 or $10 per acre.

    To learn about producers’ desire to adopt PBG and WPG, we conducted the Strategic Livestock Grazing online survey between November 2019 and January 2020. The survey was administered through the online survey tool QuestionPro and the survey link was shared with agricultural producers through email lists of university extension personnel.

    A total of 91 ranchers completed all the questions in the survey. Since the majority of ranchers in South Dakota are likely unfamiliar with both PBG and WPG practices, especially the latter, we first introduced the two practices with pictures and illustrative figures before asking any questions related to these practices.

    Willingness of Adopt PBG and WPG by Producers in S.D.

    Color-coded map of South Dakota showing producers’ willingness to adopt winter patch grazing at county level. For a complete description, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-4792.
    Figure 2. Producers’ willingness to adopt winter patch grazing at county level. Note: 0 = Will not adopt at $30/acre, 1= Will adopt at $30/acre, 2 = Will adopt at $20/acre and 3 = Will adopt at $5 or $10 per acre.

    Producers were asked about their willingness to adopt PBG and WPG at four different subsidy levels, $5, $10, $20, and $30 per acre. Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate the county average willingness to adopt. Note that 0= will not adopt at $30/acre, 1= will adopt at $30/acre, 2= will adopt at $20/acre and 3= will adopt at $5 or $10 per acre. Therefore, darker color or greater values indicate greater likelihood to adopt PBG or WPG at a lower subsidy level.

    From Figure 1, we can see regional difference in willingness to adopt PBG. While producers in eastern SD showed willingness to adopt PBG at a subsidy level of between $20 to $30 per acre, producers in western SD were unlikely to adopt PBG even at $30 per acre. The low willingness to adopt PBG in western SD is likely due to more frequent drought conditions in the region, which increased the concern of forage availability and the risk of fire. Compared to PBG, producers across SD, especially those located in western SD, expressed a higher likelihood to adopt WPG (Figure 2), which indicates that WPG could be used as a potential alternative to PBG, especially in semiarid regions.

      Subsidies and Assistance Required in Pbg and Wpg Adoption Decisions

      Line graph showing percentage of S.D. producers willing to adopt PBG and WPG at different subsidy levels. For a complete description, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-4792.
      Figure 3. Percentage of S.D. producers willing to adopt PBG and WPG at different subsidy levels.

      Figure 3 demonstrates the percentage of SD producers that indicated willingness to adopt PBG and WPG at different subsidy levels. At each subsidy level, the percentage of producers choosing WPG is consistently greater than that of PBG, indicating that producers prefer WPG over PBG. At the subsidy level of $5/acre, only 5.1% and 6.1% producers were willing to adopt PBG and WPG respectively. When the offered subsidy amount increases from $5 to $30, the percentage of producers willing to adopt the practice gradually increase. With a $1 increase in subsidy amount, the adoption rates for PBG and WPG increase by 1.8% and 2.0% respectively. At the maximum subsidy level of $30 per acre, 55% vs. 50% of the producers expressed their willingness to adopt WPG and PBG respectively.

      Even at the maximum subsidy level offered, approximately 40% of producers indicated that they were not sure about future adoption decisions. This is likely due to a lack of knowledge about the practices promoted, as 90% and 88% of producers regarded technical training as an important factor required for adopting PBG and WPG, respectively, whereas only 74% and 70% of producers regarded monetary subsidies as important for PBG and WPG adoption, respectively.

        Table 1. Percentage of ranchers who viewed different types of assistance as important in PBG and WPG adoption decisions.

        Type of assistance PBG WPG
        Technical support/assistance/training 89.91% 87.76%
        Experimental ranch demonstration 84.40% 77.55%
        Monetary subsidies 74.31% 70.41%

        Overall, we found SD producers expressed more willingness to adopt WPG than PBG, and therefore would potentially adopt WPG as a feasible substitute to PBG in semiarid regions to reduce the risk of fire. Our results also indicate that technical support and demonstrations are key to promoting adoption of heterogeneity-based rangeland management practices.

        Acknowledgements: This article is based upon research work that is financially supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2017-67020-26511.

        References:

        • Derner, J.D., W.K. Lauenroth, P. Stapp, and D.J. Augustine. 2009. Livestock as ecosystem engineers for grassland bird habitat in the western Great Plains of North America. Rangel. Ecol. Manage. 62:111-118.
        • Toledo, D., Kreuter, U. P., Sorice, M. G., & Taylor Jr, C. A. (2014). The role of prescribed burn associations in the application of prescribed fires in rangeland ecosystems. Journal of environmental management, 132, 323-328.