Participants in this work are driven by their commitment to selective, managed riparian grazing and careful monitoring as tools for improving environmental, financial, and social aspects of agriculture. As a diverse collaborative of farmers, agricultural educators, and others, they hosted four on-farm grazing schools, compiled an annotated bibliography of riparian/grazing references, wrote a chapter for monitoring pasture vegetation, and participated in several conferences and workshops designed to ‘train the trainers’ as well as farmers and other land owners who manage the agricultural landscape. Evaluations indicated that this management alternative and the field school approach struck a positive chord in participants, who have asked for more of each.
Objective 1. Synthesize key concepts in riparian grazing and monitoring learned from recent research, publications, videos, grazing networks and individuals, in several new and cohesive publications.
Objective 2. Conduct on-farm training of riparian grazing and monitoring issues for agricultural agents and others who work with farmers.
Objective 3. Disseminate information, concepts, and support materials through presentations, articles, professional journal publications, a resource center in each state, partner agency offices, the web, and an on-going monitoring newsletter.
The Minnesota and Wisconsin grazing communities agree that riparian grazing and the monitoring it requires can be an appropriate response to the need for careful management of the ecosystem and making it pay. At the same time, many if not most in the agricultural communities of farmers, researchers, and educators are skeptical about cows and streams, adhering instead to the conventional wisdom that livestock and water make a bad mix.
Much material has been presented in support of such management, even as a growing body of evidence to the contrary has begun to emerge (Driscoll and Vondracek, 2001). Water quality and wildlife habitat can be dramatically affected by grazing stream corridors (Kauffman and Krueger, 1984; NRCS, 1998). Whether or not to intentionally graze cattle in stream corridors is a contentious subject (Hawkins, personal conversation). Some agency staff, farmers, researchers, and environmentalists believe that riparian corridors must be fenced to exclude cattle they view as harmful to a corridor (Behnke and Raleigh, 1979; Platts and Wagstaff; 1984). Others acknowledge that grazing can be used to maintain or even enhance riparian corridors, if done properly (Marlow et al., 1989; Skinner and Hiller, 1996). The SARE Research and Education-funded Monitoring Project and the Wisconsin Agricultural Ecosystems Research Project provide data to substantiate the benefits that can be gained from grazing cattle in riparian corridors (Sovell, 1997; Paine et al., 1997). Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) has been found to protect and enhance both streambank stability and fish habitat. The Wisconsin-produced Grazing Streamside Pastures publication describes effective techniques to enhance streambanks, increase aquatic habitat quality, and maintain practicality and farm profitability (Paine et al, 1997; Weigel et al., 1998; Undersander and Pillsbury, 1999).
Web pages also exist with a great deal of information about grazing, but little obvious connection to riparian corridors, e.g., Grassfarmer.com, American Farmland Trust, and the Sustainable Farming Connection.
Further, farming in general and managed grazing in particular demand intentional observations built around goals that reach beyond milk yields and bushels per acre. Advocates call this monitoring and consider it a part of daily labor. Yet a deteriorated landscape, pocketbook, and home life throughout farm country suggest its widespread absence in the daily labor of many.
The Monitoring Project, a team of 25 scientists, farmers, consultants, as well as agency and non- profit staff, previously developed the video, Close to the Ground, and the Monitoring Tool Box to communicate the excitement and opportunity available through workings in teams of farmers and other professionals. The project found that Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) improved soil quality more rapidly than continuous grazing or row cropping, and improved physical and water quality characteristics in stream reaches adjacent to MIG pastures when compared to stream reaches along conventionally-grazed pastures (DeVore, 1998; Dorsey and Allan, 1997; Sovell 1997). Monitoring member Ralph Lentz found considerable interest in his on-farm sessions focused on grazing in riparian corridors for NRCS and high school biology teachers (through SARE producer grant funding).
Learning in the context of practical on-farm experience will provide opportunities for agriculture professionals to become familiar with real-life systems that highlight practices, problems and opportunities of grazing in riparian areas in the North Central region (Brown 1985; Latapi 1988; Flora 1991, 1994; Gerber 1992; Greenewoode 1993; Murray and Butler, 1994; Lanyon 1994; Rocheleau 1994; Kroma et al., 1995). Farmer observations are best shared through on-farm field days or workshops in which they are participants and help communicate to other farmers along with agriculture professionals. Lentz (private communication) notes that going to his stream and looking at his riparian grazing helps people think for themselves about the benefits that grazing in riparian areas can have. This idea is clearly captured by Gerber (1992) who stated: “Extension educators often organize meetings or develop publications to share experiences, opinions, new knowledge acquired through participatory research. Farmer observations and interpretations must be included in outreach efforts. Because participatory research and education is a never-ending, circular process, the observations, data and opinions from one year result in more questions for future research.” (Gerber, 1992).
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The professional development grant entitled, “Training on Grazing and Monitoring Riparian Corridors in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” proposed to take up the maligned issue of grazing livestock along waterways and present this management as a viable option under some geographical and environmental circumstances. In addition, because grazing inherently requires diligent attention to the landscape, monitoring over time was a requisite component to the work.
On-farm training, workshops, conferences, a newsletter, and a compilation of supportive materials were the main routes of action and outreach. In deference to the experiential wisdom of graziers and the strength of being on-farm, the work was done by a steering committee of farmers and others interested in furthering the environmental, financial, and social well-being of rural communities and farmers who are their mainstay. Future references here will be made to ‘the team.’
The team, directed by the Land Stewardship Project, was composed of members of the farming, Extension, and academic communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as the following agencies/organizations: MN Cooperative Fish&Wildlife, MN Department of Agriculture, MN Department of Natural Resources, MN Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, MN Pollution Control Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (MN and WI).
Farm sites were selected on the basis of their riparian setting, grazing enterprises, accessibility, general aesthetics (no dumps, please), and the host family’s willingness and availability. These farms are being worked by families who have incorporated grazing and their respective streams and springs into financially successful operations. Several represented the third generation to do so. The four separate farms are described briefly:
The Kim and Don Dudenbostels operate a grass-based beef operation in Crawford County, SW Wisconsin. Concerned with Foot and Mouth Disease, they required the group to remain off the home place. So a pasture next to a road and a well-managed stream provided easy and ample parking, an aesthetically pleasing tent space, and a perfect setting for a riparian discussion. We used a newly-renovated, one-year-old pasture that had been grown to corn as the destination for the pasture walk. No additional transportation was needed to ferry participants between sessions. The hosts and their four youngsters were in attendance.
Duane Hager operates a grass-based dairy in Wabasha County, SE Minnesota. He manages a series of creeks and spring on the property, but has been grazing for a number of years and is quietly passionate about being able to handle livestock and water. His home place provided the meeting center; it was accessible by a major road, with a long lane for parking and a pole shed in case of rain. The major stream site, pasture, and financial sessions were within minutes’ walk of the meeting center. Duane participated in all sessions, including a stirring introduction during which he introduced his fiancee and his parents, the latter whom farmed the site prior to Duane.
Bonnie and Vance Haugen operate the 230-acre Spring Creek Farm in Fillmore County, SE. Minnesota A conservation easement on a portion of the main stream on their property posed a particular set of questions, answered in part when permission was granted to clear the understory of a stretch of it six weeks prior to the event. Hay wagons delivered participants to the stream; participants were able to walk elsewhere. The home place provided a pole shed and ample parking, and road signs directed participants to an otherwise hidden location. Bonnie and Vance farm together, and both participated throughout the day, as did their three children and Bonnie’s parents, who farm nearby.
Mark and Sue Edgington operate a part-grass and part-confinement Jersey dairy in SE Wisconsin on land riddled with springs. Their home place provided easy parking and a pole shed, and stream and pasture walks were within easy walking distance. The couple farms together and both participated throughout the day. Mark’s parents farmed the site prior to his taking it over, and they were introduced.
Speakers outside the host farmers were selected on the basis of their knowledge, their ease on-farm, and the priority they give to monitoring the landscape over time and paying attention to one’s home life as well. The team strove for a mix of farmer and “expert” presenters, as well as to present relevant and timely issues.
Outreach and Publications
1. An Annotated Bibliography of Riparian Grazing Publications – soon to be available on www.landstewardshipproject.org. Available now in paper format (limited copies) from the Land Stewardship Project.
2. “Pasture vegetation” chapter of the Monitoring Tool Box – available only as part of the Monitoring Tool Box, from the Land Stewardship Project. For more information, see www.landstewardshipproject.org.
3. Close to the Ground newsletter – no longer being published; project issues available on line at www.landstewardshipproject.org or from the Land Stewardship Project (limited copies).
4. Presentations/trainings: team members have exposed audiences to grazing and monitoring issues at such diverse events as the 2000 Wisconsin Grazing Conference and the 2000 annual international American Society of Agronomy (ASA) meetings. New farmers in Minnesota learned about monitoring during an on-farm presentation by a team member. In mid-December 2000, team members conducted a training for agricultural agents in Wisconsin.
Each of these events attracted between 15-100 people, and all evolved around discussions of riparian grazing, ecology of the landscape, the need for monitoring, and the impacts of farm decisions on family quality of life priorities. Presenters represented the farming community in conjunction with agents or researchers, to lend credibility and real-life language to the discussion. In some cases, the Monitoring Tool Box was been made available to participants.
5. The project has received attention in the print media via newspapers and several newsletters, including the Land Stewardship Letter of the Land Stewardship Project.
6. Public television gave the issues a boost when the Minnesota Environmental Journal
filmed the Sept. 14, 2000 grazing school. The segment did an excellent piece on riparian grazing and the positive impact it can have on soil erosion and water quality. Of particular note is the visibility it gave to agents who are not always quoted as being in favor of such a management option. The program is viewed statewide.
positive direction the team’s goals of education around riparian corridors and livestock.
7. In the world of radio, a field school key note speaker, Charlie Opitz, was
interviewed by the Minneapolis-based WCCO radio station in conjunction with his participation
in the field schools. The station claims to have the largest listenership in the Upper Midwest
8. In cyberspace, monitoring has taken up a home on the website of the Land Stewardship
Project. Information about the Monitoring Tool Box as well as all issues of Close to the Ground
are now up on the site. The annotated bibliography will go up this spring.
9. An informal resource center in Minnesota is established for hard copies of most of the annotated pieces in the bibliography. The site has the capacity for fielding inquiries stemming from the bibliography. The purpose of the center is to provide yet another avenue for seeking and finding information about the issues of grazing riparian corridors and related subjects.
10. FIELD SCHOOLS: four events were held on farms being worked by families who have incorporated grazing and their respective streams and springs into financially successful operations. Host families spoke of the importance of their landscape as well as of their home lives, and how they are paying attention to each on a daily basis. This set the tone for each day, helping to expand the issues into environmental and quality of life realms. In addition to their introductory remarks, host families participated in breakout sessions throughout the day. This provided on-site insight and rounded out the discussions led by teams of agents, researchers, and/or other graziers.
Breakout sessions at each farm included a stream side look at the ecology of a riparian
corridor and the reality of grazing it, a pasture walk to address upland issues as they relate to
water quality and stream/pasture management, and the financial realities of grazing. Further, participants tried their hands at a variety of water pumps set in and near a stream, learned about land use changes in the driftless area, and discussed current issues such as feedlot regulations, use-value taxation as it relates to pastures, and citizen stream monitoring.
Presenters incorporated monitoring concepts at every step, since the team believes that
land managers on both sides of the fence should be encouraged to make intentional decisions
based on goals and reality – the key premises to monitoring. During a follow-up meeting, a
discussion ensued as to whether the material should be ‘dumbed-down’ to the audience. The
team concluded that while vocabulary and concepts might lose some in the crowd, introducing
new words and ideas in a relaxed, on-farm setting was a worthwhile risk.
Note: FARMER ADOPTION section included here
Note: literature citations included here
Participants’ high level of interest suggests that this management alternative strikes a chord. It is the project’s hope that an on-farm, hands-on way of looking at something new will encourage a shifting mind set among both producers and their educator/extension/agricultural agents.
Here are some key points of interest about the grazing schools and their participants. Of
the 230+ participants, half were farmers. The other half represented 22 identified agencies and
organizations, most of which are agriculture or research oriented, and a variety of unaffiliated citizens. Advertisement for the events was broad-based, since the team saw strength in diversity, so participants included an artist, a student, a nurse, a birder, a social worker, and a writer/photographer, as well as those in such fields as wildlife biology, education, organic crop consulting, water chemistry, agricultural organizing, and conservation, among others. All own land or work with people who do.
The identified agencies included both universities (Minnesota and Wisconsin), Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources (DNR), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, University of Minnesota Extension Service and University of Wisconsin Extension, Minnesota and state departments of Agriculture, US Fish&Wildlife Service, and Wisconsin Department of Land Conservation, among others.
Presenter teams included farmers, Minnesota and Wisconsin DNR, University of Minnesota and their respective Extension Services, NRCS, Minnesota and Wisconsin Agriculture Business Management Program, Wisconsin’s Lancaster Research Station, Minnesota’s Morris Research and Outreach Station, Fillmore County, and American Farmland Trust.
Participants traveled an average of 47 miles one way to attend either day, and nearly everyone (97%) rated their day as ‘excellent’ or “good.” Almost everyone (98%) said they learned “a lot” or “some,” and 98% indicated they were “very likely” to or “maybe” will use what they had learned. The team saw it as favorable that no one chose “probably not” or “don’t know!”
Suggestions for making the event better ranged from sending a program in advance to
looking at other livestock. The team, too, made some suggestions after the first round of field schools and acted on them. For example, publicity was more systematic and targeted for the June 2001 events than for the September 2000 events. Outreach was widespread, and attendance sometimes reflected it.
Numbers of participants and evaluations offer some sense of impact that these public events have on agriculture and those who shape it on the ground. Comments and suggestions offer some insight:
“The stream presentation was really united in their whole system approach. That was great.”
“I liked the agencies – all have parts to play – most were represented.”
“This was truly an excellent field day, in every regard.”
“ more local food”
“more about the other ecological benefits (infiltration, biodiversity)
“walk the stream rather than stand still beside it”
“Had fun -learned much!”
“Listening to host farmers is really good.”
“Keep the mix of farmers and researchers, others.”
“Keep it up.”
Another measuring tool is the impetus the events provided to do follow up by others. One of the hosts pursued funding to do another field school, and is planning that event now.
The project hosted four, one-day field schools on farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin in
mid-September 2000 and in late June 2001. While grass-based livestock systems are not the answer for everyone everywhere, they do provide an alternative – to government subsidized farming, to environmental degradation, even to excessive regulations. The goal of the field schools was to bring agents and farmers alike to the table to see for themselves the viability of a livestock/water mix and to discuss when and where the mix might work. Judging by the evaluations, 230 people learned a lot and they intend to use it, which is exactly the response this work was designed to prompt.
The events went well, marked by ideal weather and a straight-talking Charlie Opitz (well-known and large-scale Wisconsin grazier) as the key note speaker at one of the farms. “Graziers aren’t nuts and there aren’t too many of them going broke. That speaks for itself,” he said during an interview before one of the events. The team hopes 230 people were listening, although the question of long-term impact continues to dominate follow-up meetings both official and informal.
Given the current agricultural climate, it is a stymying fact that farmers are not rushing to convert their operations to grazing, with or without the unique situation presented by a stream or spring on the property. So why not? This is the team’s ‘million dollar question.’ Is the time frame too short, or is such an expectation unrealistic? Are we going about our outreach all wrong, or missing the population that is persuadable? Should we stop being kind to conventional agriculture? These questions shaped the conversations as the team planned each year’s events.
It would be appropriate to add a note about the team, which itself was a diverse group of
people representing organizations not always at the table together. It was an important part of the project, albeit unwritten or spoken about, that agencies worked (mostly) together. Some of the education is happening among the ranks, and the climate for sustainable agriculture is improving for the effort.
Behnke, R. J and Raleigh, R. F. 1979. “Grazing and the riparian zone: impact and management v/perspectives.” Pp. 263-267. In Johnson, R.R. and McCormick, J. F. (eds). Technical and Coordination Strategies for Protection and Mangement of Floodplain Wetlands and Other Riparian Ecosystems.” Proc. Symp. USDA Forest Service Gen Tech. Rep W0-12.
Brown, D.L. 1985. People-centered development and participatory research. Harvard Educational Review, 55(1): 69-74.
DeVore, B. 1998. The Stream Team. The Minnesota Volunteer. Nov-Dec 1998. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul.
Dorsey, J. D. and Allan, D. J. Fall 1996. “On-farm Monitoring of Soil Quality.” Agronomy Abstracts.
Driscoll, M. and B. Vondracek. 2000. An Annotated Bibliography of Riparian Grazing Publications. Land Stewardship Project, St. Paul, Mn. www.landstewardshipproject.org.
Flora, C. B. 1991. Research priorities for a sustainable agriculture. Setting Priorities: Research, practice, and policy for a more sustainable agriculture. 1991 Conference Proceedings. Ames, Iowa: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
Gerber, J.M. 1992. Farmer participation in research: a model for adaptive research and education. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 7(3): 118-121.
Greenewoode, D.J. 1993. Participatory action research as a process and a goal. Human Relations, 46(2).
Kauffman, J.B. and Kruger W.C. 1984. Livestock impacts on riparian ecosystems and streamside management implication… A review. Journal of Range Management 37:430-438.
Korsching, P.F. and J.E. Malia. 1991. Institutional support for practicing sustainable agriculture. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 6(1): 17-22.
Kroma, M., A. Meares, and C.B. Flora. 1995. Participatory research in the landscape/lifescape ecology approach to sustainable development. SANREM-CRSP.
Lanyon, L.E. 1994. Participatory assistance: an alternative to transfer of technology for promoting change on farms. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 9(3): 136-142.
Latapi, P. 1988. Participatory research: a new paradigm. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 34(3): 310-319.
Marlow, C.B., Olson-Ritz, K. and Atchley, J. 1989. Response of aSouthwest Montana Riparian System to Four Grazing Management Alternatives. Pp 111-116. In Barton, B.A ad Kershner , J. L. (eds). Practical Approaches to Riparian Resource Management, An Educational Workshop. U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Billings, Mt.
Murray, H. and L.M. Butler. 1994. Whole farm case studies and focus groups: participatory strategies for agricultural research and education programs. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 9(1&2): 38-44.
NRCS. 1998. Pasture Management Guide for Northern Missouri. NRCS, Columbia, MO. 73 pp.
Paine, L.K, Bartlet, G.A. and Undersander, D. J. 1997. “Improving the wildlife habitat quality of agroecosystems.” 59th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference 7-10 December 1997, Milwaukee, Wi.
Platts, W.S. amd F. J. Wagstaff. 1984. Fencing to control livesstock grazing on riparian habitats along streams: is it a viable alternative? N. Am. J. Fish. Mgmt. 4:266-272.
Rocheleau, D.E. 1994. Participatory research and the race to save the planet: questions, critique, and lessons from the field. Journal of Agriculture and Human Values, 11(2&3): 4-25.
Skinner, Q.D. and Hiller, J.G. 1996. Riparian zones then and now: an enhanced environment created by agriculture. In Lockeretz W. (ed): Environmental enhancement through agriculture, proceedings of a conference. School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Tufts, University. Medford, MA. 334 pp.
Sovell, L.A. 1997. Impacts of rotational grazing and riparian buffer strips on the physiochemical characteristics and biological communities of southeastern Minnesota streams. M.S. Thesis. Dept. Ent. Fish and Wildlife. Univ. MN. St. Paul. 159 pp.
Undersander, D. and B. Pillsbury. 1999. Grazing Streamside Pastures. Cooperative Extension of the University of Wisconsin. A3699. 16 pp.
Weigel, B.M., Lyons, J., Dodsonl, S.I, Paine, L.K. and Undersander, D. J. 1998. “Using macroinvertebrates to compare instensive rotational grazing and buffer strips as rehabilitation for continuous grazing in southwestern Wisconsin.” Annual meeting of the North American Benthological Society. 1-5 June 1998. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
So many and none at all…ultimately, where there is a will there can be found the way, and yet one’s will is shaped in part by the world around us. Many Extension agents don’t know or even care to learn about sustainable ag. enterprises. The products of those farms lack reasonable markets and the infrastructure with which to capitalize on what market there is. Farmers are still being paid to do the wrong thing rather than to be the kind of stewardship farmers that sustainable farming is all about.