• Utilizing pasture resources for sub-Arctic agriculture: sustainable livestock production in Alaska

      Starr, Laura Marie; Rowell, Janice; Greenberg, Joshua; Seefeldt, Steven; Zhang, Mingchu (2017-05)
      It is estimated that the globe must produce 100% more food in the next 50 years to meet growing demand while addressing the compounding challenge of climate change. One potential solution to this challenge is to produce more on existing agricultural lands and put more land into production. The extremely cold and dry climate that characterizes much of Alaska has all but removed the state from the state and national discussions of agricultural production and development. Yet despite this apparent incompatibility with traditional agricultural models, some of the largest wild herds of grazing ungulates are indigenous to Alaska - and thriving. This is both a testament to the resilience of grazing systems in general as well as a statement to the suitability of grazing systems specifically for Alaska. To shift the paradigm towards ecological and economic sustainability, we need to develop sustainable agricultural strategies that are specific to this unique ecosystem. A two-fold approach was used in this body of research: Is there an indigenous livestock species that could be economically feasible enterprise option? Is there a grazing management regime for subarctic Alaska that would improve ecosystem services and optimize pasture resources? I conducted an economic feasibility study of farming muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus), a uniquely adapted Arctic ungulate, to address the first question. An enterprise budget was used to estimate the fixed and variable costs and to model different revenue scenarios using six different combinations of qiviut, sold as raw fiber or value added yarn, and livestock sales to estimate the total economic potential of farming muskoxen at two scales, 36 and 72 muskoxen. Farming muskoxen was economically sustainable under several revenue scenarios. The most profitable scenario for either herd size was selling all the qiviut as value added yarn coupled with livestock sales. The enterprise was profitable at either scale assuming all the yarn sold at full retail price. If no livestock were sold, selling the total qiviut harvest as yarn was the only profitable option. When selling raw fiber alone, the break-even point was at a herd size of 124 muskoxen. Economies of scale accounted for a decrease in costs of approximately 21% overall, 30% in labor, and 23% in herd health, as the herd doubled in size. To address the need for grazing management strategies that are both environmentally and economically sustainable in Alaska, I conducted a study to evaluate the potential of intensively managed rotational grazing (IMRG) regimes on sub-arctic pasture. This regime is designed to mimic the short but intense grazing of wild, migratory ungulates that could enhance ecosystem function while optimizing pasture usage and forage growth. I conducted simulated grazing, applied using IMRG methodology, to evaluate above and below ground response to an IMRG regime and to gain insight on the role of grazing disturbance mechanisms on sub-arctic soil and plant health. A full factorial experiment of muskox dung/urine deposition (M), simulated trampling (T), and herbivory (H) (forage clipping), mimicking IMRG timing and intensity, was conducted at the Large Animal Research Station (LARS), UAF. I used a randomized block design with 96-1 m² plots in two established pastures with different soil types, over the 2014 and 2015 grazing seasons. I documented a treatment effect on soil parameters, forage growth, and percentage of bare soil (p<0.05). Soil nitrogen cycling and the Haney Soil Health Index both increased in plots that received a combination M and T or MT and H. The forage yield was consistently increased by MH, MTH, and H treatments. Although the MT and T treatments had a negative impact on forage yield, they had the largest reduction in the amount of bare ground. The data from this simulated study suggest that theories that underpin the IMRG method are potentially useful to producers, in the unique Alaskan subarctic environment.