Improving Pasture Resource Management with Farmer-Engaged Planning – Part 2

Progress report for LNE21-414

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $85,346.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipient: UVM Extension
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Cheryl Cesario
UVM Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Problem and justification

Pasture is often one of the most under-utilized resources on the farm and a poorly managed pasture can be subject to overgrazing damage, soil compaction, and nutrient run-off, providing minimal feed value to livestock. Farmers who are under-utilizing their pastures, or not utilizing pasture at all, have higher production costs. However, with a paradigm shift by the farmer to understand pasture as a crop to be managed, they can produce high quality forages that support livestock production at lower cost and improve soil health and water quality. To achieve healthy pasture ecosystems, the producer must understand the relationship between the soil, the pasture plants, and livestock grazing behavior. When farmers consider adopting new or improved grazing practices, they typically have a grazing plan written by a technical service provider, but rarely is it combined with extensive education or one-on-one continuing support that increases the likelihood of success. Without farmer engagement or service provider support, an otherwise good plan may fail. Livestock farmers, whether dairy or meat producers, are operating on slim margins and need to be empowered to create their own grazing plan and improve their management to reduce feed costs and capture any available market premiums.

Solution and approach

Farmer engagement in the planning process is critical for successful implementation. The purpose of the grazing and pasture management course is to provide a small group learning opportunity where farmers who are considering grazing as a new management practice, or farmers who would like to improve their existing management can gain an understanding of the fundamental concepts of grazing and have an active role in the planning practice.

This project will continue the work of the previously-funded project LNE17-355 (Improving Pasture Resource Management with Farmer-Engaged Planning), in which each farmer develops a grazing plan tailor-made to their operation that accounts for differences in landowner goals, land base, soil type, forage species, livestock breeds and genetics and management practices. While each farm will have an overall goal of maximizing forage intake through grazing, there will be differences in application from farm to farm. Classes and field days will complement a one-on-one approach to develop a well-designed and well-managed system that will collectively reduce barriers to farmer adoption and success.

Performance Target:

Thirty-six livestock farmers complete a pasture management course and develop their own farm-specific grazing plans to gain an in-depth understanding of grazing concepts, which results in the implementation of new or improved grazing practices on approximately 2,160 acres and reduces feed costs per animal by $1.00/day during the grazing season.

Introduction:

When farmers consider adopting new or improved grazing practices, they typically have a grazing plan written by a technical service provider, but rarely is it combined with extensive education or one-on-one continuing support that increases the likelihood of success. Without farmer engagement or service provider support, an otherwise good plan may fail. Livestock farmers, whether dairy or meat producers, are operating on slim margins and need to be empowered to create their grazing plan and improve their management to reduce feed costs and capture any available market premiums.

Farmer engagement in the planning process is critical for successful implementation. The purpose of the grazing and pasture management course is to provide a small group learning opportunity where farmers who are considering grazing as a new management practice, or farmers who would like to improve their existing management can gain an understanding of the fundamental concepts of grazing and have an active role in the planning practice.

This project will continue the work of the previously-funded project LNE17-355 (Improving Pasture Resource Management with Farmer-Engaged Planning), in which each farmer develops a grazing plan tailor-made to their operation that accounts for differences in landowner goals, land base, soil type, forage species, livestock breeds and genetics and management practices. While each farm will have an overall goal of maximizing forage intake through grazing, there will be differences in application from farm to farm. Classes and field days will complement a one-on-one approach to develop a well-designed and well-managed system that will collectively reduce barriers to farmer adoption and success.

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

This is a classroom-based program with in-field follow up visits during the grazing season. Participants engage in interactive learning while developing the components of a grazing plan in class. Our textbook, Sarah Flack's The Art and Science of Grazing, contains all the information presented in class and serves as an on-going reference manual. Additionally, participants develop worksheets as part of their plan and also are given factsheets as additional resources. There is ample time in each class for question and answer sessions. 

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Farmers learn about the pasture management course through newsletters and email networks via the Champlain Valley Crop, Soil, and Pasture Team and other partner organizations.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
200
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
200
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
October 1, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Due to Covid increases that started again in the fall, classes that were proposed to run in the fall and winter were postponed until March/April 2022. I was able to collaborate with the White River Conservation District to host the class series for farmers in the White River Junction, VT area. Multiple service providers helped get the word out in February and March through various channels including the VT Sheep and Goat Association, the VT Grass Farmers Association, the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture Pasture calendar and the VT Pasture Network listserve. I was also able to connect with the Franklin County Conservation District about planning for classes in either Franklin or Orleans County, VT later in 2022. 

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Farmers attend one of two field days at pasture-based livestock farms that highlight improved grazing management practices. These field days provide opportunities for farmers who are not practicing management-intensive grazing to see grazing infrastructure and concepts in the field.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
14
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
7
Proposed Completion Date:
October 1, 2022
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 21, 2022
Accomplishments:

This was an early pre-grazing season meeting at the Ainsworth Farm in Royalton to discuss grazing concepts as well as general agronomic practices regarding pasture management. The farmers in attendance are part of a 'grazing cohort' project funded by the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center. The project leader, Amber Reed, hosted me for this field day so that we could introduce these concepts and encourage farmers to sign up for a future grazing class series as they develop their plans.

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Farmers enroll in the pasture management class (2 courses offered per year, for 3 years) and complete weekly lessons on pasture plant identification, pasture nutrition, grazing management concepts, and system design and infrastructure requirements. Over the course of 4 weeks, farmers spend 12 hours utilizing the concepts presented to adapt the ideas to their own farms.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
11
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
1
Proposed Completion Date:
February 1, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Our first class series started later than anticipated (March 29-April 12, 2022) due to COVID related delays. We were able to run a 3-class series with longer sessions per class in order to wrap up the last class  before farmers became busy with spring work. The plan is to run a second class in October/November, and then 2 more next winter in order to get back on scheduled milestones.

The later start to the classes allowed me additional time to update the curriculum significantly and introduce new learning tools and concepts. I was also able to develop additional worksheets to include in the grazing plan. Those are attached.1-Checklist for grazing planning 2-My Grazing Goals 3-My Forage Inventory 4-GRAZING PLANNING CALCULATIONS - template 5-My Contingency Plan 6-My Spring Turnout Plan

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Farmers complete the course having developed a written grazing management plan meeting Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) standards. These farmers use their completed plan to implement one or more improved practices.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Class participants host field days to highlight managed grazing practices.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
October 1, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Farmers keep detailed grazing management records to document increases in grazing season length and increases in dry matter intake from pasture, which can then be used to calculate savings in stored feed costs.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
36
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2024
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

All farmers from the completed class series have received grazing charts for recordkeeping this season.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

14 Farmers
7 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

Target: number of farmers:
36
Target: change/adoption:

Farmers complete a pasture management course and develop a farm-specific grazing plan.

Target: amount of production affected:

2,160 acres

Target: quantified benefit(s):

Livestock farmers will reduce stored feed costs by $1.00/day during the grazing season.

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.