Final report for ENC17-157

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $74,610.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: GrassWorks, Inc.
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Jill Hapner
GrassWorks, Inc.
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project works at statewide and local levels for grazing network coordinators and livestock farmers to educate agency staff on effective ways to promote grazing to other farmers and to develop county programs to do so.

GrassWorks is a statewide farmer organization that has established soil health education programming and a pasture walk toolkit. This project will work with partnerships established through previous programs. The project is coordinated at a state level to develop the programing; content is delivered to local agency staff through 3 of Wisconsin’s Resource Conservation and Development Councils (RC&Ds) (covering 39 of our 72 counties) that sponsor grazing networks. It provides support for networks to engage local, Land Conservation (LCD), Extension and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) staff over two years in a learning project promoting grazing as a sustainable farming method. This project will tap into LCD, NRCS, Extension, farmer and financial planner’s expertise to share successful methods of converting financially and environmentally successful grazing farms while providing on farm experience to the agency staff.  Outcomes include: 1) teaching local agency staff how to promote grazing as a sustainable farming method to farmers and committee members, 2) teaching local agency staff the operational details of managed grazing 3) developing county grazing initiatives. Activities will include training agency staff on effective ways to promote grazing, on-farm workshops for agency staff, and assistance in working with agency committees to include grazing in their conservation objectives. The project will further the conversion of well managed grazing farms.

Project Objectives:

Short term learning outcomes: County LCD staff will gain awareness of managed grazing as a conservation solution and will understand how investing in supporting a local grazing network is a cost-effective means of addressing soil erosion, preventing surface and ground water contamination, and enhancing local economies.

Intermediate term outcomes: Thirty County LCD offices will prioritize managed grazing and will provide support for a local grazing network (or start a new one). Local agency staff will gain experience and knowledge and will be able to provide technical assistance on managed grazing to local farmers.

Long-term outcomes: More acres will be under perennial cover in Thirty nine counties. Livestock and dairy farmers will receive high quality technical assistance on incorporating pasture into their systems and financial cost share to do so. Managed grazing will be incorporated into more county land conservation plans.

Educating NRCS staff who have capacity to cost share grazing practices will further the goals of their conservation mission. Educating Extension staff on the intricate details of managing productive pastures will enable them to host excellent pasture walks in their counties. Educating LCD staff on the details as well as how to implement county grazing programs will forward grazing across WI.  Ultimately, this effort will result in increased acreage of well-managed pasture delivering positive environmental and local economic outcomes.

Our three target agencies (Extension, NRCS, and LCDs) have different objectives and areas of expertise, but all three need on-farm training, positive engagement with their local graziers to deliver their products.

Cooperators

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Education

Educational approach:

GrassWork’s project, Promoting grazing as a sustainable farming method to agency staff in Wisconsin, worked at statewide and local levels for grazing network coordinators and livestock farmers to educate agency staff on effective ways to promote grazing to other farmers and to develop county programs to do so. The project provided support for three Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D’s) grazing network coordinators to engage local, Land Conservation (LCD), Extension and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) staff over two years in a learning project promoting grazing as a sustainable farming method. This project will tapped into LCD, NRCS, Extension, farmer and financial planner’s expertise to share successful methods of converting financially and environmentally successful grazing farms while providing on farm experience to the agency staff.  Outcomes include: 1) teaching local agency staff how to promote grazing as a sustainable farming method to farmers and committee members, 2) teaching local agency staff the operational details of managed grazing 3) developing county grazing initiatives.  Activities included training agency staff on effective ways to promote grazing in workshop settings; hosting on-farm workshops for agency staff to strengthen grazing knowledge; and assistance in working with agency committees to include grazing in their conservation objectives.  The project successfully advanced the conversion of well managed grazing farms.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Promoting grazing as a sustainable farming method to agency staff in Wisconsin.
Objective:

Establish more county programs with provide educational, technical and facility cost assistance to increase acres of well managed pastures in Wisconsin.

Description:

A county grazing resource binder was developed and includes:  A summary of grazing financials, testimonial statements from graziers, a listing of local graziers who are willing to assist county staff, county grazing program models, spreadsheets and tools Marathon and Sauk Counties use when promoting grazing in their counties, DATCP and DNR funding resources, and wording to incorporate grazing into county conservation plans.  The resource binder was used to guide LCD staff throughout the project.

Network Coordinators announced the project and shared the project objectives and schedule of workshops and on-farm trainings for the 2018 season with agency partners through mailings in early March, 2018.  These mailings were followed up with direct phone calls and at least 3 email reminder blasts prior to each event. 

The following six regional agency staff training workshops were hosted across the 3 RC&D areas:

March 20th          Dodge County Administration Building, 127 East Oak Street, Juneau, WI

March 21st              841 Brew house, 841 East Milwaukee Street, Whitewater, WI

April 6th                     Quality Inn – Mineral Point, 1345 Business Park Rd, Mineral Point, WI

April 10th              Calumet County Court House, 206 Court Street, Chilton, WI

April 23rd              Ag services building at 1960. 8th Ave.  Baldwin, WI

May 7th                Abbotsford City Hall 203 N. First St, Abbotsford, WI

Each workshop included:  presentations from Marathon and Sauk County staff discussing of how their county LCD staff promote grazing as a sustainable farming method; presentations from financial planners showing 20 years of grazing farm profit across the state; explanation of DATCP and DNR funding sources available to counties and round table discussions with local grazing farmers, network coordinators and agency staff working with grazing to share how to effectively promote grazing as a sustainable farming practice. 

Through funding from the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a series of Improving Dairy Profitability through Managed Grazing Workshops were held for farmers in conjunction with each of the agency training workshops.  The groups were joined for lunch and the round table discussion where farmers were paired with agency staff from their county. 

The grazing network coordinators coordinated 20 in-depth on-farm trainings throughout the grazing season with agency staff with in each of the six regions as follows:

  1. John Richmond/Charles Flodquist Farm, 12454 20th Street, Colfax, WI: May 4th, June 29th and August 24th
  2. Paul Onan/Nate Peplinski Farm, 9659 Amherst Junction, WI: May 21st, June 18th, August 6th
  3. Dan & Wendy Flood Dairy Farm, N4312 State Highway 151, Oakfield, WI 53065: May 15th, June 19th, August 14th
  4. Brattset Family Farm, N2437 Brattset Lane, Jefferson, WI 53549: May 16th, June 20th, August 15th, September 26th
  5. Saxon Homestead Farm, 15621 South Union Road, Cleveland, WI 53015: May 31st, June 26th, August 22nd
  6. Uplands Cheese, 5023 HWY 23, Dodgeville, WI: June 5th, September 9th ,  August 13thand October 12th  

The agency staff had opportunities for on-farm experiences.  They experienced a season in grazing and were able to interact on a personal level with grazing farmers, an underserved audience for many of these agencies.  Topics included:  nine steps of conservation planning, grazing plans, cost share for pasture facilities, use of pasture management apps, paddock layout and design, water line layout and design, stocking rates, seeding rates, pasture scoring, pasture seeding and interseeding,  grazing heights, soil health, and forage quality and quantity.  Forage quality samples were collected at one of the field days for near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIR) analysis at the U W River Falls soils lab.  Dr. Newman, UW River Falls Professor of Forages and Extension Specialist, shared the forage quality test results with each group at the following field day.  Justin Morris, NRCS Regional Soil Health Specialist, demonstrated the NRCS rain fall simulator with each group to illustrate the enhanced soil health water holding capacity of well-managed pasture soils vs. crop fields.   Agency staff learned from the host farmer, network coordinators and guest speakers and benefited from group learning circles.  They were able to ask questions in a friendly non-intimidating environment.  By the end of the 2018 grazing season, agency staff became more knowledgeable on advanced grazing techniques to promote and help develop additional profitable grazing farms.

In addition to the above listed workshops and pasture walks, network coordinators solicited partner involvement through partnerships including but not limited to: 

  1. Attended Iowa County Farmer’s Appreciation Day, Dodgeville, WI, July 8, 2018,
  2. Attended Farm Progress Days, July, 2018,
  3. Co instructed at Implementing Your Grazing Plan: Measuring, Monitoring, and Adjusting” in partnership with Madison Area Technical College & Columbia County LCD, at Fountain Prairie Farm, Fall River, WI. 
  4. Participated in USDA-NRCS Area Conservation Meeting, Belmont, WI on August 1, 2018.
  5. Met with US Fish and Wildlife Service, Madison, WI on Aug 27, 2018.
  6. Co-hosted a pasture walk with NRCS staff Waupaca County August 2, 2018.
  7. Attended Jefferson County LCD Committee meetings February – May.
  8. Invited agency staff to attend other pasture walks, funded through Wisconsin Farmers Union and coordinated by the network coordinators.
  9. Coordinated and hosted a private tour at Brattset Family Farm for Dane County LCD staff to bring farmer 3 conventional farmers to tour and discuss the finances of grazing.
  10. Attended Women Caring for the Land events hosted by USFW Service farm bill biologists.

Network coordinators surveyed the agency staff to determine which areas they need more formal grazing education on or confidence in.  Staff responded that they needed more education in the following 4 areas:  1) Calculating appropriate livestock stocking rates.  2)  Formulating seed mixtures.  3) Funding sources to help graziers.  4) Specifics of agency staff and farmers working together. 

The following 6 regional workshops were hosted across the 3 RC&D areas during first and second quarter 2019: 

  • February 11 Columbia County Health and Human Services Building, 111 East Mullett Street, Portage, WI
  • February 28 Abbotsford City Hall, 203 N. First Street, Abbotsford, WI
  • March 6 Calumet County Court House, 206 Court Street, Chilton, WI
  • March 26 Dunn County Community Services Building, 3001 US HWY 12 East, Menomonie, WI
  • April 23 Jefferson County UWEX Building, 846 Collins road, Jefferson, WI
  • May 15 Green Lake County Building, 571 County Road A, Green Lake, WI

The workshop content followed the survey needs and included discussions on stocking rates, seed mixtures and funding sources.  DNR staff joined to share information on grazing on public lands.  Tools from the county resource binder were shared.  Producers shared their stores and the workshops wrapped up with farmer agency panel discussions.    The workshops strengthened agency staff skills in promoting grazing as a sustainable farming method.

The project team worked through existing Land Conservation Association structures to distribute information. Project team member Serge Koenig was awarded the Outstanding Conservation Employee for his work with graziers during the annual Land and Water Conservation Convention, Lake Geneva, WI.

Network Coordinators and or RC&D staff attended County LCD meetings during winter 2019 to further promote the project directly to LCD committee staff and the general public.  Meetings were attended in the following Counties:  Jefferson, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Calumet, Brown, Kewanee and Door Counties.

During summer 2019, network coordinators and agency staff co-hosted a pasture walk in each of the 6 regions for county committee and board members and the general public.  These public education pasture walks demonstrated the sustainability of grazing farms, the environmental benefits of grazing farms and their contribution to the local community.  Attendees learned the importance of including grazing in their county conservation plans and the value of building a county grazing program.

The following 6 regional on farm workshops were hosted across the 3 RC&D areas during second & third quarter 2019: 

  • June 18, Water Quality and Landscape Management – Rotational Grazing is Sustainable Farming, Brattset Family Farm, N2437 Brattset Lane, Jefferson
  • July 10, Rotational Grazing is Sustainable Farming, Saxon Homestead Farm, 15621 South Union Road, Cleveland
  • July 11 Grazing and Soil Health, Hill Creek Farm, 12454 20th Street, Colfax
  • July 30, Advanced Grazing Training with Jim Gerrish, Workshop: DNR Customer Service Center 3911 Fish Hatchery Road, Fitchburg.  Lunch Speaker:  Assistant to WDNR Secretary Preston Cole.  Pasture Walks:  Grazing Cover Crops Highland Spring Farm, 2559 South Syene Road, Fitchburg & Grazing to manage wildlife habitat at the WDNR Hook Lake Wildlife Area, McManus Road, Oregon.
  • August 2, Advanced Grazing Training for Agency Staff with Jim Gerrish, WI Indianhead Tech College, 1019 S. Knowles Ave, New Richmond
  • September 19, Evening on the Farm – Learn more about the many benefits of grass-based agriculture, Bouressa Family Farm, N3775 Ritchie Road, New London
Outcomes and impacts:

Agency staff including:  LCD, NRCS, UWEX, FSA, WDNR & US Fish & Wildlife gained a raised awareness of grazing as a financially viable, sustainable farming method.  Through their training, agency staff are more aware of advanced grazing methods and able to promote well managed grazing techniques to farmers.  Some of the agency staff have become NRCS Technical Service Providers to be able to write grazing plans for NRCS EQIP Cost share.  Agency staff have become comfortable with many of the host farmers and have reached out to them individually to introduce them to beginning farmers with in their region for mentorship.  Agency staff are becoming better able to work effectively with farmers promoting grazing as a sustainable farming method. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

95 Consultations
55 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
45 On-farm demonstrations
6 Published press articles, newsletters
45 Tours
6 Webinars / talks / presentations
13 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

41 Extension
61 NRCS
2 Researchers
39 Nonprofit
111 Agency
4 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
240 Farmers/ranchers
55 Others

Learning Outcomes

290 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
135 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

10 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Agency staff including:  LCD, NRCS, UWEX, FSA, WDNR & US Fish & Wildlife gained a raised awareness of grazing as a financially viable, sustainable farming method.  Through repeated visits to the host farms strong relationships were built between the host farmers, RC&D network coordinators and local agency staff.  Some agency staff attended only one event and learned basics of grazing to share with others and try to figure out how to incorporate into their conservation planning for landscapes or with farmers.  Other agency staff attended all trainings in their region and solidified relationships with RC&D coordinators as grazing advisors and with the farmers as mentors to share with other farmers.  Agency staff are aware of advanced grazing methods and are realizing the complexity and environmental value of such conservation farms.  Attending agency staff are wanting to promote well managed grazing techniques to farmers.  Some of the agency staff are working on becoming NRCS Technical Service Providers to be able to write grazing plans for NRCS EQIP Cost share.  Agency staff have become comfortable with the many of the host farmers and have reached out to them individually to introduce them to beginning farmers with in their region for mentorship. Agency staff and LCD committee members see the benefit of listing grazing as a conservation practice in their county conservation plans.

96 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
240 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

WDNR staff became involved as active participants in this project.  Through their participation grazing education was shared with yet another group of agency staff.

Success stories:
  • Following a spring grazing workshop to educate agency staff in Northwestern Wisconsin an NRCS Soil Conservationist stated “Great and knowledgeable speakers and farmer panel. Awesome event!  Nice to have knowledge to share with the farmers I work with.”
  • After the last agency training on-farm workshop held in southeast Wisconsin a county conservationist stated “Thank you so much for including me in this training. It was invaluable.  Grazing is good for our soils and water and I’m excited our county is letting me start a grazing program.  I’ve learned so much from the farmers and you this season and thank you for taking the time to help me when I need it.”
  • During a phone conversation, an LCD staff from central WI stated “thank you so much for your time and help! I’m really making progress getting our office to support grazing.  Your assistance is invaluable to me.”
  • After a recent Workshop in Southern WI many comments were made by partnering and attending agency staff regarding the huge resurgence in grazing interest from the local farmers. 
Recommendations:

WDNR Wildlife biologists are seeking help networking between farmers and their land base areas.  The regional grazing RC&D staff have strong knowledge of graziers looking for land but don’t have budget to establish these relationships and make sure they will work.

Our initial objectives for this project were to have the agency staff educated on how to promote and assist farmers to implement managed grazing with their farmers.  After working with agency staff for two seasons we realize they understand the environmental benefits and are willing and want to promote managed grazing, but will need more hands-on education to feel confident that they are giving farmers accurate and precise information.  They have realized the complexity of successful grazing systems and need more education to if they are going to work independently with farmers to convert them to grazing.

Wisconsin University Extension has begun hiring staff to fill the many vacant county positions.  We are just meeting these staff as they are new employees.  They are excited to work with our RC&D Network Coordinators and want to learn more about grazing.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.