Evaluating Pasture Climate Resilience Utilizing Wild Forb and Insect Biodiversity Related to Changing Soil Health

Progress report for FNC20-1224

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $25,516.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Lincoln University Cooperative Extension-Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Susan Jaster
Lincoln University Cooperative Extension-Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program
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Project Information

Description of operation:

There are 5 ranches involved in FNC20-1224 within 2 counties of the West Central Region of Missouri. Three locations are livestock only and two are fruit, vegetables, flower and livestock diversified operations. One of the diversified ranches uses organic practices but is not certified (Burr Oak Farm, 78 acres), and the other has been using regenerative practices for 4 years (Bountiful, 5 acres). One of the livestock only ranches has been using regenerative practices for 5 years (Storm Rider, 40 acres). The other two livestock grazing ranches are just beginning to look into regenerative practices (Big Dream, 19.5 acres and K-Farm, 3acres). Soil health has been an active focus for three of the properties to varying degrees. Burr Oak uses organic practices to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables under plastic culture (3 hightunnels) and open field vegetable production with fescue pastures using adaptive grazing techniques. Bountiful is a poultry and sheep ranch of highly diverse pasture with plastic culture (ventilated overhead hightunnel) production for vegetables. Storm Rider is a diversified pasture reclaimed from corn and bean rotation by using cover crop cocktails to over seed mixed weed fields. Learning about regenerative practices is the focus of K-Farm and Big Dream. K-Farm has a small fruit orchard grazed by sheep plus some very brittle and weedy land reclaimed from a house construction site providing some of their grazing. K-farm uses no chemicals in the orchard allowing tall grasses to protect the fruit from deer (deer prefer to know where they are jumping). The sheep graze the orchard in spring and prior to fruit harvest. Big Dream has sheep, goats and alpacas for fiber, poultry for eggs and meat, plus a milk cow and small garden for family use as well as fescue hay fields. They struggle with overgrazed pastures due to keeping all species separate and boarding a couple of horses for neighbors; as well as having only a portion of the property in permanent fencing to allow for hay production.


Changing Climate and increasing input costs combine to stress farmers ecologically, economically, and socially. Regenerative grazing practices leading to better soil health can help farmers by increasing pasture biodiversity resulting in resilience to climate changes, reducing pasture input needs, increasing water storage capacity and reducing time farmers spend applying inputs. Measuring soil health is both costly and time consuming. We propose to assess whether wild forb and insect biodiversity and abundance can be used as surrogates in measuring soil health on farms where regenerative methods have been practiced for several years and where they are newly implemented. Cover crops will be used to improve soil health which should stimulate wild forb growth and insect species utilization of pastures. We will utilize modified Daubenmire frames to measure vegetation cover and species. We will measure insect diversity and abundance using sweep-net transects. Vegetation and insect measurements will be related to soil health measurements. We expect that increasing soil health will increase wild forb and insect biodiversity and abundance, while increased soil organic matter (soil carbon) would indicate greater water storage capacity.

Project Objectives:
    1. Utilize soil health analysis to compare soil health under regenerative practices long term to short term and to traditional small farm pasture management
    2. Utilize soil health analysis to quantify changes in soil health between years at each site
    3. Plant cover crops to help improve the soil health on five farms
    4. Collect and inventory insects to compare five farms
    5. Use Solvita CO2 test after grazing to quantify possible carbon sequestration representing water storage capacity


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Materials and methods:

Soil health analysis will be used to understand active carbon, mineralizable nutrients, organic matter of each farm’s soil to compare the farms. All 5 farms have small ruminants to graze the cover crops but the farms are at different stages of regenerative practices. All the farms, at some point in their history, have been under traditional chemical farming. All the farms have experienced the extremes of drought and extensive flooding in the past 5-6 years. We want to know how the regenerative practices will help us keep our soil and feed our animals.  Water infiltration and Solvita CO2 testing will help us understand how much water holding capacity we have in our soils to withstand flood or drought for climate change resilience. Collecting insects and quantifying wild forbs will show us if we have genuine diversity and free ecoservices from this diversity. We will collect insects using sweep-nets along four -five meter transects on a 50m by 100m grid. We will measure vegetation at points on a 50m by 50m grid. Soil samples will consist of one sample submitted per field per project stage (prior to cover crop planting/grazing, post planting/grazing each year). In each field we will collect soil at each vegetation measurement point and combine it to one sample to represent the field average. We will then relate diversity and abundance measurements to soil health analysis between and among our fields.

Research results and discussion:

We will include results and recommendations/discussion after second year of our project.

Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

One article about FNC20-1224 has been written for a contest, which won in Jan 2021.

The decision tool or calculator has not been created yet, data is incomplete at this time

We had hoped to attend the MO Forage and Grassland Council conference in 2020 to tell about FNC20-1224, but covid-19 hit, and the conference was cancelled.  We also plan to attend the Livestock Symposium and the MO Forage and Grassland Council 2021 conferences to present our findings, if the conferences are held in 2021. If they are not held we will find a way to do a zoom meeting.

Article written:

eXtension.orgConnect ExtensionSubgroups Farm Journal Monthly Story Lead Contest

Farm Journal Monthly Story Lead Contest

This monthly contest is a partnership between eXtension and Farm Journal's Trust in Food initiative to lift up stories about the clients of Extension. Farm Journal is the nation’s leading business information and media company serving the agricultural market. Started 144 years ago with the preeminent Farm Journal magazine, the company serves the row crop, livestock, produce and retail sectors.

SARE project :Regenerative Practices find Free Ecoservices



Small farms are much more interesting than large ones, take for example my SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant FNC20-1224 as a look into 5 ranchers who want to improve their knowledge about regenerative practices and soil health.  We want to preserve our farm soils, feed ourselves and sell the rest in a way that will leave our ranches resilient to climate change, enhance our lives, lower our inputs and generally make our lives better.  We may not be ready to sell carbon credits but we are learning how to create them in an up-close and personal way.

We are looking at soil health, return of biology to damaged soil, succession plants and improved habitat for predator and pollinator insects by gathering an inventory of species present. That is a great deal of research to  cram into a two year study.  As women ranchers, we find that building resilience to any future "problems" is our heritage and culture. 

The five of us are super-involved in all aspects of our tiny ranches! From feeding the poultry, milking cows and goats to data entry on livestock production and finances to watching our families grow; we are involved. There are no department managers, our "team meetings" are during meals and kisses goodbye to make sure things get done while we are away at other jobs and tasks and thanking the spouse who is willing to take care of "it".

"It" is about making sure our soils are in good health.  We are growing cover crops by over-seeding them into perennial pastures.   We are catching insects over the test plots and identifying them.  We are using a field test which tells us how much carbon remains in the soil with proper grazing and another test which measures the fungus to bacteria ratios.  We are taking soil samples to the lab to find out the level of biological activity; we want to properly care for our tiny subterranean livestock-the mycorrhizae.

Free ecoservices are great. The tiny subterranean livestock communicate with each other to care for the forages growing in the test plots plus they  improve water infiltration and nutrient cycling. We did not even have to ask or force them to do this job with synthetic inputs, just add cover crops. The mycorrhizae feed themselves and colonize to maximize water/ nutrient intake of the plants and gain shelter in the root exudates. Our plants are great for grazing, are not as susceptible to invasive insect damage even though our insect identification shows by numbers they are present.  Our soil health numbers have gone up and we feel that the fungus to bacteria number will improve as we continue into the second year of data collection.

Regenerative practices of adaptive grazing and broadcasting cover crops  over perennials are low cost and easy to do. With high hopes for improved numbers in soil health we love getting freee ecoservices. 

Tags: Free EcoservicesRegenerative PracticeshealthsoilSARE Farmer/Rancher Grant

From: Aaron Weibe <aaronweibe@extension.org>
Sent: Friday, February 12, 2021, 6:55 PM
To: Susan Jaster; Matthews, Yvonne; Chris Geith; Albert E Essel
Subject: Fwd: January 2021 contest winner!


Thanks for your submission for the January 2021 Farm Journal Story Lead contest! I'm pleased to tell you that your story lead has been selected to be developed and featured with Farm Journal, and to lift up Lincoln University Cooperative Extension nationally!
Nate Birt will be reaching out to you soon. Congrats again!
Aaron Weibe
eXtension Foundation 

Learning Outcomes

5 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

first year complete need more data for comparison


Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Success stories:

project on-going wait for results


don't know yet

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.