Factors contributing to grassland implementation and multifunctionality at field, farm and community levels in Marion County, Iowa
Cow-calf operations in grass-based agricultural systems in Marion County, Iowa, are multifunctional in their provision of agronomic, ecological, economic and social uses. However, since 1992, pastureland and cow-calf operations have decreased, leading to a speculative loss of some beneficial functions. This study uses farming systems research and evaluation to investigate grassland multifunctionality at farm, field, and community levels. At the farm and community levels, themes from semi-structured interviews and with a focus group with cow-calf operators suggest that the relevance of profit from a cow-calf operation is mediated by a wide range of livelihood and lifestyle choices, and that operators have diverse criteria regarding the suitability of land for pasture. At the field level, on-farm research investigates the feasibility of a multifunctional pasture management strategy in response to the operator's need for an organically certifiable warm-season species paddock. The implementation of native grasses and legumes into fallow pasture without the use of herbicides under flash grazing, mowing, and unmanaged control treatments tests their differences in species establishment and pasture composition. After three seasons, no significant differences between grazing and mowing were evident in total seeded species establishment, but there was a trend toward greater native legume establishment in the control over the managed treatments. Total species abundance after three seasons of management significantly differed between each treatment, with the control bearing the highest species abundance. At the community level, policies rewarding field and farm diversity will facilitate greater support of grass-based systems from local institutions.