The term grassland agriculture is a familiar one in a number of European countries but perhaps not as familiar in the United States. What do we mean by the term grassland agriculture?

The American Forage & Grassland Council defines grassland agriculture simply as:"...the proper use of grass in agriculture" (American Forage & GrasslandCouncil, 1959. American Forage & Grassland Council, Its History, Plans,and Objectives, State College, Pa.).

In actual practice, grassland agriculture includes the proper use of legumes as well as grasses. Grasses and/or grass/legume mixtures are used to feed livestock, support wildlife, and to maintain land resources in good condition. Grasslands occupy about one-half the total land are in the contiguous 48 states and therefore deserve attention and proper utilization by everyone concerned with good stewardship of the earth.

Integrating grassland agriculture into a farming system provides a number of important benefits to farmers and to society. The major benefits of grassland agriculture include the following.

  • Protects soil from wind and water erosion.
  • Provides high quality, relatively inexpensive feed for livestock and wildlife.
  • Provides wildlife habitat.
  • Helps maintain soil fertility because it encourages higher levels of soil organic matter than row crops.
  • Sustains levels of soil organic matter.

Discuss a typical grassland agroecosystem.

In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on viewing farming systems as part of the overall ecosystems of the earth. This is understandable since what happens on the farm may have a profound impact on the surrounding environment. For example, the types of vegetation grown on a farm will impact local wildlife. If permitted, deer or elk will graze readily on alfalfa fields in the evening. And improper use of agricultural chemicals may have detrimental effects on birds or on fish in nearby streams.

In light of the important relationship between agricultural production systems (farms) and the surrounding environment, the term agroecosystem has been created. What do we mean by the term agroecosystem?

An agroecosystem is an ecosystem that includes a farm or farms and the surrounding environment. Like any other ecosystem, an agroecosystem contains both living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components. Examples of living components of an ecosystem or an agroecosystem include grasses, cattle, insects, and diseases. Examples of non-living components of an agroecosystem would be weather, minerals, or sunlight.

The various living and non-living factors interact with each other in many complex ways. For example, a bird interacts with an earthworm by eating it. Fertilizer interacts with grass by increasing its rate of growth.

One way to begin to visualize and understand an agroecosystem is to examine a list of the major components of such a system. Illustrated below is a photo of agroecosystem and a simplified list of its interacting components all participating in the circle of life.


Cows interact with pastures by eating the forage, urinating and defecating on the plants and soil; thousands of insects and bugs of all types exist in the soil, on the land, and in the air; trees and other plant life utilize the moisture and nutrients found in the soil, and air; evaporation and other weather factors impact the plants, livestock, and geology of the region; humans interact with the livestock, plants, and other life forms by eating, trampling, spraying, hitting, or planting; sun energy is utilized by plants, animals, and humans; the water is a home for some life, refreshment for others, and nutrients for plants; and although not detectable on the photo, other factors are brought in by wind, tires, winter feed and so forth. All these players interact and influence each other. The goal of sustainability is harmony among the players.