Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Program

Final Report for LNE02-170

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $128,910.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Federal Funds: $41,543.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $238,574.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
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Project Information


The primary purpose of the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Program was to initiate a pilot grazing
advocacy project by contracting with consultants knowledgeable in the principles of prescribed
grazing and conservation planning.

During the past few years local, state and federal conservation/environmental agencies
or organizations have experienced decreases in their respective budgets. Therefore, these
agencies/organizations have had limited ability to provide technical assistance to the livestock
industry and more specifically grazing farms. Even when budgets have improved the demand on staff to service other programs has restricted the availability to asssit livestock producers with grazing issues and/or questions.

Under the direction of the Finger Lakes RC&D Council, a regional non-profit 501C.3
organization, the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Program has allowed for a more efficient use of
local, state, federal, and private services resulting in the development of grazing plans and the installation of Best Management Practices associated with prescribed grazing.

Regional representatives of Cornell Cooperative Extension, in collaboration with the private consultants and other agency personnel, have been able to conduct seminars, pasture walks, and field days that have emphasized prescribed grazing.


It is widely recognized as the nation’s economy has prospered, the agricultural community’s economic growth has severely lagged behind. Farmers and livestock producers have continued to search for management alternatives that could improve the sustainability of their farms.

For the past fifteen years the implementation
of prescribed grazing systems has demonstrated to be both an environmentally sound and economically viable management tool for livestock operations. Grazing systems have also been a key Best Management Practice for controlling erosion and improving water quality. By encouraging livestock to harvest high quality forage directly, farms have been able to reduce their operating costs and minimize off-farm expenses.

Personnel from local, state, and federal agencies such as Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Cooperative Extension offices, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service have traditionally distributed information on the benefits of prescribed grazing. In previous years as local, state, and federal budgets for conservation/environmental programs continue to be cut it has been increasingly difficult for these professionals to conduct viable outreach programs that have satisfied the needs of producers looking to start, improve, or expand prescribed grazing systems. Even now as federal conservation programs have received more funding, agencies' staff can not keep up with the increasing workload. Programs such EQIP; AMA; WRP; CRP & WHIP have required staff time which could have been applied to planning and installing grazing systems.

Therefore this project is directed toward demonstrating an alternative delivery system to the grazing community without sacrificing other State and federal conservation programs.
The concept of peers teaching peers is nothing new in fact these same federal, state, and local organizations have utilized such techniques on many occasions. Therefore, the basis of
this proposal is to initiate a pilot grazing advocacy project, which will use livestock producers and other partners knowledgeable in the principles of prescribed grazing to conduct an outreach program throughout an eleven county region in the Western Finger Lakes Region of New York State.

In order to expand the knowledge and technical skills of the grazing advocates, NRCS and Cooperative Extension personnel have overseen the information outreach aspects of the project. The Finger Lakes RC&D Council, a regional non-profit 501-C.3 organization has been responsible for the administrative phase of the project.

Final products resulting from this Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Program will be a series of seminars, workshops, field days, and pasture walks, which will distribute information to both novice and advance graziers. In addition, unique to this project will be development of grazing plans, prepared by the advocates, which can be used as blue prints for potential state and federal grant opportunities. These grazing plans comply with NRCS guidelines.

Who Stands to Benefit:

Livestock producers have been the principle beneficiaries of the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Program. While local, state, and federal conservation programs are either restricted by budgets or workloads the need still exists to implement an effective outreach program to promote the advantages of prescribed grazing. Widely recognized as an environmentally sound and economically effective management tool for livestock operations, farmers continue to seek out opportunities to learn about grazing.

The secondary beneficiary of this project will be the local, state, and federal conservation agencies. By initiating this peer-to-peer outreach effort agency personnel from NRCS, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Soil & Water Conservation Districts will be more available to provide more advanced service to clients.

Performance Target:
  1. a) make 125 contacts with new graziers

    b) coordinate a minimum of 30 pasture walks with an average of 15 attendees for a total of
    450 participants

    c) conduct 9 grazing seminars/workshops with an average of 35 people for an attendance of
    315 participants

    d) make 200 farm follow up visits

    e) prepare 45 grazing plans with an average of 65 acres of pasture/plan totaling 2925 acres

    f) install BMPs on a minimum of 10 farms with grazing plans

    g) take 50-60 forage samples over two growing seasons

    h) prepare 24 articles on grazing, dairy nutrition and management for submission to the
    local media and Country Folks

    i) establish one in the field demonstration plot with side by side comparisons of management techniques per year

    j) establish and maintain a database of landowners in the Finger Lakes Region that are
    interested in grazing.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Janice Degni
  • Bill Henning
  • Peter Landre
  • Jeff Parker
  • Judson Reid
  • John Wickham
  • John Wildeman


Materials and methods:

The Finger Lakes RC&D Council's geographic district lies within the heart of the world reknowned Finger Lakes region of New York State.
The Finger Lakes region consits of eleven long, narrow but very deep fresh water lakes. Complimenting the lakes is a patchwork of land uses dominated by forestland and agricultural land which enhances the area's attraction to tourists.

The rolling topography which results from the presence of the lakes provides an ideal setting for grape production. Other agricutural commodities grown in the region include corn, small grains, apples, blue berries and livestock (sheep, dairy, beef and goats). Unfortuantely raising livestock and cultivating row crops on highly erosive soils is not particularly conducive to maintaining high water quality of the Finger Lakes and near by streams and rivers.

The Finger Lakes RC&D Council has recognized how the application of prescribed grazing systems to
livestock agriculture can sustain these types of operations while protecting the lakes' water quality.

To disseminate information to and encourage the adoption of prescribed grazing sytems by livestock operators, the Finger Lakes RC&D Council established two Grazing Advocate Positions. The Grazing Advocates were each contracted for a 27 month period. Their responsibilities were to promote the advantages of prescribed grazing systems and related Best Management Practices. The Advocates met with livestock producers throughout an eleven county region. The list of potential canidates came from local NRCS, Cooperative Extension and Soil & Water Conservation District offices. As the advocates met with livestock producers, the advocates ascertained the farmers' interest in grazing and/or its applicability to the respective farms.

For those livestock operations demonstrating a genuine interest in grazing the advocates worked with the farmers and developed grazing plans based on the farms objectives and goals. The advocates were required to develop the plans in accordance with NRCS planning guidelines.

As the plans were prepared, copies were provided to the landowner as well as the local NRCS or Soil & Water Conservation District. The plans identified BMPs that could be applied to the respective farms. This information provided the background for potential grant applications to the NYS Environmental Protection Fund; NRCS' Agricultural Management Assistance Program and/or Enviromental Quality Incentive Program.

Even without financial assistance from these various State and Federal programs the grazing plans served as blue prints for the farms to apply BMPs and implement prescribed grazing systems.

Coinciding with the activities of the grazing advocates the Finger Lakes RC&D Council also contracted with Cornell University's Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension's Dairy & Field Crops Team. Both of these entities were responsible for the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocay program's education outreach program.

The two teams working independenly of each other by dividing the eleven county project area approximately in half. Pasture walks, workshops and conferences were coordinated and hosted by the teams. The teams gathered forage data from grazing farms and posted the results on the Graze New York web site. They collected names of active graziers as well as potential graziers which were compiled into a data base for future eductional activities.

Research results and discussion:

The project sponsor, Finger Lakes RC&D Council, is extremely pleased with the progress which has been made since the inception of this SARE grant. Local NRCS, Cooperative Extension,and Soil & Water Conservation District offices are referring new and established graziers to the grazing advocates for assistance in developing grazing plans. Consequently, the advocates are providing a quality product which can be used by the partnering agencies to expedite the installation of Best Management Practices on grazing farms throughout the Finger Lakes Region.

Through this collaborate effort, information on grazing and dairy/livestock management is being
disseminated through regularly held pasture walks and grazing workshops. Requests for technical assistance from graziers are no longer being buried on the desks of overworked/underfunded agency personnel but are being serviced in a timely fashion. Names of graziers, which have been contacted by the advocates, are now being incorporated into databases, which can be accessed for future state or federal grant applications.

The project’s outreach efforts have allowed for the sharing of information collected through
forage samples, onsite demonstrations, and pasture walks which have provided opportunities for farmer to farmer dialogues. All of the project’s performance targets have already equaled or exceeded 100% of each of the project goals. It is anticipated such success will continue to allow local S&WCD, NRCS, and CCE personnel to utilize private sector assistance that can result in the implementation of environmentally sound and economically efficient conservation practices.


1. The number of grazing plans completed (70) exceeded the project goals by 55%. The total acreage of prescribed grazing systems equaled 4258 which represents 46% increase above the intended goal.

2. The number of farms applying BMPs as a result of the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Project (19)exceeded the project goals by 90%.

3. The number of initial farm contacts exceeded project goals (125) by 42 for a total of 167

4. The number of workshops held (15) exceeded project goals (9) by 67%

5. The number of followup farm visits exceeded project goals (200) by 153 for a totla of 353

6. Effective June 21, 2004 NRCS in New York awarded the Finger Lakes RC&D Council a $25,000.00 grant which will allow the Council to continue it Grazing Advocacy Project through the end of 2004 and perhaps into 2005.

7. Number of articles/newsreleases written exceeded the project's original goal of 24 by 96%

8. 50 forage sample were taken during the project thus equalling the project's goal. The results were maintained on teh Graze New York web site for two years.

9. One side by side demonstration using different grass species was established but the excessively wet summers in 2003-2004 have basically caused the demonstration to fail.

10. The number of pasture walks conducted equaled the planned goal of 30.

Participation Summary


Educational approach:

•Sullivan Trail Receives Grant – The Leader – 5/17/02
•Grazing Grant Awarded – Country Folks West – 6/3/02
•Council Gets $128,910 Grant for Grazing Program – Finger Lakes Business Almanac 6/7-6/20/02
•If Intensive Management is the Hand – Baleage is the Glove – Bill Henning
•Your Farm Already Has an Unfair Advantage Are you Making the Most of It? - Bill Henning mMarch 2002
•Antibiotics, Agriculture, & Society – Judson Reid 4/3/02
•Antibiotics & Livestock Production – Judson Reid 4/10/02
•Antibiotics in Crops & Biological Control - Judson Reid 4/17/02
•Crime & Punishment: Antibiotic Contamination of Milk - Judson Reid 4/24/02
•Potato Leaf Hoppers Enjoy Local Bounty - Judson Reid 6/26/02
•Pasture Update – 7/3/02 - Judson Reid
•Keeping in Real Pasture Poultry of Yates C0. – 7/24/02
•Anhydrous Theft Prevention Tips – Judson Reid
•Pasture Walk @ Stuttle Farm in Dryden on 8/13/02 – Country Folks West 8/12/02
•Organic Again – Judson Reid 9/27/02
•12 Dollars for 100 Pound of Milk 10/04/02 - Judson Reid
•Nickel & Dimming Small Farms – Judson Reid 11/06/02
•Small Farm Focus - Lamb Finishing – Bill Henning
•Small Farm Focus – Should you start deceasing milk production until profit stops increasing – Bill Henning
•Lisa is alive and well – Bill Henning
•When in Winter’s Grip, February 2003, Ag Focus (fence management) – B. Henning
•Cold Pasture Warm /Thoughts – area news papers 2/13/03 – Judson Reid
•Keeping it Real-Pastured Poultry of Yates Co. – Area Newspapers – 7/18/02 – J. Reid
•Lactating Auditors, Cow Comfort – Area Newspapers – 3/28/03 – J. Reid
•What I can do for you – 4/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Pasture Notes – 5/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Important Tools for Spring Flush Management – 6/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Seasonal Calving & Cross Breeding Pasture Walks w/Dr. Steven Washburn – 6/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Grazing Notes 8/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Pasture Drought – 9/2/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Pasture Notes– 10/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Hot Stove Grazing: Diversification & Innovative Marketing – Field Trips to Kevin & Amy Sullivan’s – 2/2002 – Dan Demaine
•Pasture Forage Quality Project – 2002 – Dan Demaine
•Small Farm Focus: Managed Grazing – Not New & Still Evolving – Bill Henning
•Cattle Handling Facility for the Little Cow Herd – Bill Henning
•Grazing Assistance offered by NWNY Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team –Summer 2003 Yates Co. SWCD Newsletter
•We Now Offer Grazing Assistance – AgFocus – July 2003
•Sheep Pasture Walks on August 9 – Country Folks West – August 4, 2003
•Putrefy to Fertilize – Fall 2003 – Judson Reid
•Farm Painting – Judson Reid
•Two Pasture Walks Planned for Area Farmers September 12 & 24 – Country Folks West – 9/8/03
•Pasture Walk @ Bulin’s Farm 9/24/03 to Focus on Contract Dairy Heifer Grazing – Country Folks West September 15, 2003
• Tearing the Green – Economic Insults, Vegetative Adoption – Judson Reid
•Animal Husbandry Trivia (and not so trivia) – Bill Henning
•Grazing – Is it Right For Your Resource Plan? – Fay Benson
•Grazing Pasture Walk October 16 – Country Folks – October 6, 2003
•Low Input Sustainable Farming Conference – Country Folks West – November 17, 2003

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

NRCS administrators in New York have witnessed the value of the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Program in delivering services to the livestock community in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. As a direct result of the success of the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocay Program, NRCS and the Finger Lakes RC&D Council have entered into a cooperative agreement effective June 21, 2004 which has allowed the RC&D Council to continue the Grazing Advocacy Program for at least one more year. The Council has hired two of the original consultants that have particpated as grazing advocates in this project. In additon the Council has contracted with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Steuben County to continue the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy outreach initiative. It is anticipated CCE of Steuben County will host 8 pasture walks/workshops in a three county area consisting of Chemung, Schuyler & Steuben during the next 12 months.

Federal and local conservation agenicies are utilizing the grazing plans that have been developed through the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Project as the foundation of applications to NRCS administered programs such as Agicultural Management Assistance (AMA) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP)as well as New York State's Environmental Protection Fund. The existence of these grazing plans has expedited the development of these applications.

Another direct result of the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Project has been the creation of the Finger Lakes Graziers network. Regular meetings of the Finger Lakes Graziers have been occurring since the first year of the Grazing Advocacy Project. The Finger Lakes Graziers network is made up primarily but not exclusively of Mennonites and Amish livestock producers. Pasture walks and meeting have encouraged an exchange of ideas between the members as well as local agency personnel. Historically, the Mennonite and Ammish communties were underserved by USDA agencies and Cooperative Extension. Now a steady dialogue is occurring between the Mennonites, Ammish and others within the agricultural community.

Economic Analysis

As a direct result of the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Project, 19 livestock farms have completed the installation of BMPS associated with their prescribed grazing systems. These BMPs include perimeter & interior fencing; laneway improvement; livestock watering systems (wells, ponds & spring developments); liming, fertilizing &/or seeding pasture as well as brush management. The State grant dollars and landowner contributions associated with the implemetation of these BMPs exceeded $238,575.00.

Eight other livestock farms are also in different phases of installing BMPs that are also being supplemented by the same NYS grant totaling approximately $60,000.00. While the farm operators are contributing another $20,000.00

Another seven farms are currently enrolled in a second NYS grazing grant and will be implemeting similar BMPs on their respective farms. The estimated value of these projects will equal $73,500.00.

Therefore in a simplistic manner this $128,500.00 SARE grant has resulted in the installation of more than $392,075.00 worth of BMPs on 34 livestock farms. This could be interperted as a 3:1 investment by the SARE program.

Farmer Adoption

The livestock producers who have particpated in this project have been actively applying the recommendations that are incorporated in the grazing plans. Some of the particpants have been fortunate to receive financial support from various State and federal conservation programs in order to install BMPs, while others are implementing the plans' recommendations with out financial subsidies at a slower more methodical pace.

The Finger Lakes Grazing Advocacy Program has demonstrated the effectiveness of the peer to peer technical assistance in regards to the number of prescribed grazing systems that have been planned (70) and the number of farms that have implemented or will be implementing Best Management Practices that are associated with prescribed grazing systems (34) that were prepared through this project. This represents an almost 50% implementation rate.

The grazing advocates and the livestock communtiy have now developed a line of communications that allows for a steady and open exchange of ideas. This same dialogue is also allowing for a transfer of information between livestock producers. This network has been demonstrated through the effectiveness of the Finger Lakes Graziers Group.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

The Northeast SARE Program has allowed the Finger Lakes RC&D Council to demonstrate over an extended period, 27 months, the effectiveness of this peer to peer grazing intitiative. The key ingredient to the success of this project, in addition to the personnel, is the availability of project funding over a period longer than one year intervals. The assurance that funds will be available allowed the Council to contract with capable and qualified individuals to the fill the Grazing Advocate positions.

Once the Finger Lakes Grazing Advocay project became established farmers were seeking technical assistance from the advocates. To have lost the impetus created through this SARE grant would have been harmful to the Council and NRCS' creditability. Fortunately the RC&D Council has received a one year reprieve via the NRCS grant awarded on June 21, 2004.

The Finger Lakes RC&D Council continues to seek additonal long term funding from other private, State and Federal sources in order to maintain its Grazing Advocacy Program.

It is the expectation of the Finger Lakes RC&D Council that the outcomes of this project can be conveyed to NRCS so the agency will recognize how future federal Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative funding can be applied efficiently to the Finger Lakes RC&D Council's project as well as similar project areas throughout New York State resulting in a favorable cost:benefit ratio.

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.