Planned Grazing has long been recognized as a simple but effective way to grow more pounds of grass per acre by improving land health and productivity. Many studies have shown that producers can more than double their stocking rates in a few short years. The project addresses the need to bring retiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) back to full productivity by restoring soil health, increasing biodiversity, and increase profitability for the producer. Over a period of three years, the proposed project will accomplish the following objectives: 1. A planned grazing regime will be implemented on 288 acres of retiring CRP land in Curry County, New Mexico, restoring soil health, ecological services, and economic viability of the land. 2. A rigorous monitoring protocol will document changes in key land health indicators over the three-year period; results will be analyzed and disseminated through trade journals and other publications. 3. A well-designed and executed outreach program will ensure the dissemination of the practice of planned grazing and its benefits for the environment and producers. 4. Two-day intensive workshops will provide the opportunity to interested ranchers to learn about planned grazing and how they can apply the technique on their retiring CRP lands. The producer and principal investigator for the project is a long-time rancher and a Holistic Management Certified Educator. As such she is well positioned to implement the project as well as conduct rigorous monitoring, implement the outreach activities, and provide the education and training to her peers. Technical support of the project will be provided by a long-time Holistic Management Educator who has over 12 years experience in project oversight and resource management training. Her role is complemented by the participation of NRCS, FSA, and New Mexico Extension Service staff. Additional Project Background CRP is a USDA program developed to take fragile acres out of farming production; the contracts have been in place up to 25 years in some locations. Many of these acres were planted to non-native grasses; primarily Weeping Love Grass. Love Grass is a tall perennial grass that grows well in dry climates; it greens up early in the spring and can tolerate the hot New Mexico summers. Some CRP contracts allowed producers the option to lightly graze once every 3 years, newer contracts only allowed grazing once every 10 years. Thus the fields became over grown with oxidizing plant materials. There is a high amount of clay in the soils and without disturbance the top of the soil has become hard and capped. The combination of a thick canopy shading the ground and the hard cap on the soil; new growth is relatively nonexistent. Traditional grazing of simply turning cattle on CRP has proven to be ineffective. Continuous grazing allows the cattle to pick and choose what grasses they eat; leading to patchy grazing with only 20-25% utilization of the entire field and increasing poor soil health due to overrest of plants and soils that need the mineral cycling that animals can provide. The CRP allowed many farmers to retire and sell their farm equipment. Very few “new” farmers have moved back to the farm since the CRP was introduced, leading to a severe decline in our small schools populations. The two schools affected by the CRP in our project area rely heavily on non-district children to keep their doors open; 50-75% of their population comes from either Clovis or Tucumcari 20-30 miles away. Small businesses in the area have been hit hard as well. The residents in the project area must travel 30-40 miles for gas, groceries and medical attention. As the CRP Contracts are expiring and the program will be completely gone for most of the producers in the project area by 2012, farmers and ranchers are looking for ways to make the fields/pastures profitable. Planned Grazing is a financially viable option to retiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. This project seeks to add an option that will allow current land managers profitable alternatives along with providing opportunities for young farmers/ranchers to return to the land
Objective 1: Applying Planned Grazing to retiring CRP acreage. July – September 2010: 80 acres of native grass and 208 acres of love grass will be intensely grazed with appropriate rest periods in between. Using temporary electric fence, small strips of land – ranging from 1 – 10 acres — will be grazed by a mixed herd of cattle, sheep, and goats, which will be moved a minimum of once every three days. A beginning farmer from Tucumcari, New Mexico, and her daughter will be hired to help build fences and move the animals. July – September 2011: The same planned grazing regime will be applied again on an additional 288 acres.
Objective 2: Data collection, monitoring, and data analysis from each of the test and control plots. Data will be collected from six 100-foot transects on a yearly basis. Analysis of data will be looking for changes in percent bare ground; distance between live plants; pounds of forage produced; diversity of plant species; condition of the soil; water infiltration. Data collected from the transects will be sent to Dr. Ann Adams soil samples will be sent to New Mexico State University, and tissue samples will be sent to SDK Labs for analysis with results disseminated in trade journals and during field days. Carbon sequestration data will be determined with the help of Rudy Garcia with the New Mexico NRCS.
Objective 3: Outreach – a combination of field days, electronic media, articles, and presentations will disseminate lessons learned. (Also see outreach plan below.)
Objective 4: Training and Education. In conjunction with the September and April Field Days, a two-day Grazing and Land Health Seminar will be held for 15 participants. The seminar will teach farmers and ranchers how to plan their grazing and evaluate the health of their land. Participants will leave the seminar with a grazing plan for their own farm or ranch, tools for monitoring, and the skills needed to begin planned grazing on their CRP land.