One out of every 3 acres in the U.S. is rangeland. Two-thirds of these are privately owned, mainly by ranchers who graze their livestock in the open country of the American West.
U.S. rangelands produce premium beef, wool and dairy. And it’s the plants that feed these livestock that are the foundation for profitable agriculture in the West. But ranchers haven’t had a good way to measure how their grass is faring — until now.
New free app
The Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP), developed in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management and the University of Montana, allows producers to track changes in the amount and types of plants growing on their property.
RAP is a free online resource that provides data on vegetation trends across the West from the mid-1980s to the present, and it calculates the productivity of those plants. It collects data such as forage productivity, vegetation cover, riparian condition and sensitivity, climate and drought monitoring, and more. It uses remote-sensing technology with massive satellite imagery archives. According to the developers, its datasets allow users to monitor trends and changes at the pasture, landscape or regional scales from 1984 to the present.
This combination of long-term datasets shows landowners, managers and conservationists how their lands have changed over time, which translates directly into their operation’s profitability.
Farmers in the Central and Eastern U.S. have been using technology to track changes in crop production for decades. As soon as they see that their plant productivity is declining — and revenue following suit — they can take steps to address the limitations and boost productivity again.
Monitor changes quickly
RAP provides the same power to ranchers. RAP can show ranchers the gap between their potential production and the actual production they realize in terms of pounds per acre of grass. It helps landowners understand how much they can potentially gain by changing management practices to boost available forage and close the gap. And it’s designed to enhance the local knowledge of the land and the grazing management that’s occurred for generations.
Landowners can see how their plant production has changed in a single month, or over the span of several years. The technology can be used to visualize plant productivity in an area as small as a baseball diamond or as large as several states. New technology like RAP helps ranchers “help the land” in order to sustain wildlife, provide food and fiber, and support agricultural families long into the future.
To learn more, visit rangelands.app.