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Focus on socially disadvantaged or limited resource farmers/ranchers?
Project Funding Request
Bringing well-managed pastures, other perennial forages, manure nutrients, and legume sources of nitrogen back to annually cropped land is essential to restoring the ecological function of agricultural land and addressing a suite of environmental issues in the Upper Mississippi River Watershed. Accomplishing this far-reaching goal requires a foundation of trust-based relationships among multiple stakeholders, built on a shared understanding of the problems and possible solutions.
This project seeks to foster re-integration of livestock and grain production systems in the North Central Region by engaging mainstream and underserved farmer organizations with regenerative agriculture organizations in collaborative work:
- conducting an interactive survey of crop and livestock farmers in six states (IA, IL, IN, MN, MO, and WI) to gain an understanding of producer practices, challenges, and goals
- gathering and curating regional resources on crop and livestock integration; building integrated farm financial analysis tools and case studies
- widely disseminating resources collected or developed through the project
- beginning development of regional and state-specific educational programming based on the needs and interests identified in the survey.
The survey will be distributed to at least 10,000 farmers through organizations the farmers trust. Survey results from at least 3,000 farmers will generate information on producer practices, attitudes, and goals. The survey will give partner organizations a better understanding of the concerns of row crop farmers wary of adding livestock to their enterprise and will help identify ways to overcome systemic challenges to livestock integration in today’s agriculture. This knowledge, coupled with collective experience of collaborators, will guide development of educational programming and other activities aimed at promoting environmental, economic, and social benefits of integrated livestock and crop systems in the North Central Region.
Coordinated by the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group (MPFWG) of Green Lands Blue Waters, current project partners include farmer organizations, universities and state and federal agencies in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin. As part of this project, we intend to forge ties with new partners, including other mainstream livestock and grain producer organizations, as well as farming organizations that serve veterans, women, and people of color, to build a coalition of farmer-led partners to transition NCR agriculture toward a system that generates economic, social, and environmental rewards for farmers and communities.
- MPFWG and partners will expand collaboration, inviting mainstream and underserved crop and livestock farmer organizations and farmers to participate in survey and resource development.
- Through a comprehensive survey and in-depth case studies, partners will gain understanding of farmers’ current livestock and grain production practices, financial conditions, needs, and goals.
- MPFWG collaborators and new partners will build a crop and livestock integration resource library and craft educational programming informed by survey results.
- Farmers and farm educators across the Midwest will pursue strategies to integrate livestock and crop production on farms, resulting in increased continuous living cover.
Background, Rationale and Need
Intensive annual grain production is a leading cause of non-point pollution of surface and groundwater, hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, and topsoil losses in the U.S. Corn Belt (Spratt et al 2021, Thaler et al 2021). The Covid pandemic has increased the sense of urgency that significant changes are needed to address these challenges and build a more resilient, diversified agricultural system (Prokopy et al 2020). The most effective means of substantially addressing water quality issues, providing high quality wildlife and pollinator habitat, and ensuring long-term carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, is through increasing acreage of perennial forages and well-managed pasture: crops that cannot be eaten by humans but are integral to livestock production (Crews et al. 2018).
Well-managed perennial forages deliver superior ecosystem services (Franzluebbers et al 2012, Spratt et al 2021) and contribute significantly to cropping system stability and resilience (Boody and Meier 2020, Sanford et al 2020) as well as more predictable and stable income for farmers (Chavas et al 2009). While these benefits have been known for decades, agriculture in the North Central Region has continued on a trajectory toward increased specialization, pushed by farm policy, technology changes, labor availability, and economies of scale (Sulc and Franzluebbers 2013, Garrett et al 2017). In states like Illinois, where 80% of the cropland is in a corn-soybean rotation, there is no way to meet clean water and soil health goals without a significant increase in perennial crops on the landscape (Willhite et al (no date)), which argues strongly for reintegration of crop and livestock systems. Numerous researchers have promoted diversified crop and livestock systems and documented the benefits of such systems (Sulc and Tracy 2007, Olmstead and Brummer 2008).
Mainstream agriculture groups are increasingly interested in environmental issues such as water quality and carbon sequestration. There are also increasing concerns among these mainstream groups about farm resilience in the face of climate changes and global economic changes. This is a good time for the sustainable agriculture community to reach out and engage these groups.
The current interest in cover crops among both livestock and grain farmers presents an opportunity to foster reintroduction of livestock grazing and manure nutrients to crop ground. NCR SARE has supported significant work in this area, with more than a dozen recent projects related to grazing cover crops. Using cover crops as forages increases economic returns of cover crops, decreasing the risk of experimentation for new cover croppers (Plastina et al. 2018, SARE report).
Our MPFWG members have repeatedly noted in meetings and conference sessions over the past decade that the first step toward true integration of livestock and crops, and increase in opportunities to increase perennial forage acreage, is to just get livestock present on the land. Increasing perennial forage acreage is a long-term goal of this and related projects, but we recognize that grazing of cover crops and crop residues can be key entry points to presence of livestock on the land. Understanding farmer attitudes, actions, and perceived barriers to these forms of livestock reintroduction will help educators and promoters of these practices design more effective outreach and education tools.
A search of the SARE project database under the heading “Animal production – grazing – rotational” from 2001 to 2021 yielded 573 entries. Many of these were focused on measurement of agronomic factors, animal performance, or soil health responses. Some focused on networking of farmers or of farm educators, development of educational materials, or educational delivery systems. Only a handful stated participatory research or survey work in the project title, but these were not recent and none were in the North Central Region. Examples that seemed similar included “LS11-238 - Long-term AgroEcosystems Research and Adoption in the Texas Southern High Plains – Phase I;” and “GW12-064 - Enhancing the Potential for Sustainability through Participatory Environmental Assessment.”
We noted four SARE-funded projects about livestock integration with cropping systems other than forages were conducted in the years 2013 to 2015, and all of these were Farmer-Rancher grants. That hints at interest among farmers in crop and livestock integration, but specific educational support for integration has been lagging. Also, two of the four projects mentioned above involved specialty crops (vineyards and hops) that have limited acreage. We envision this project accelerating the crop and livestock integration conversation among farm advisors and educators who work with large-scale cash grain crops in the North Central Region, and resulting in an uptick in educational offerings on the topic throughout the region.
This project will build on previous work by partners, including a Conservation Innovation Grant project on grazing cover crops conducted by the Pasture Project, Land Stewardship Project, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and the Sustainable Farming Association (Williams and King 2018). It will complement current work including a NCR-SARE-funded 2020 Sand County Foundation project titled “Onto Greener Pastures with rotational grazing and cover crops.” That project, based in Sauk County, WI, seeks to increase awareness, opportunity, and confidence in implementing cover crops with alternative grazing management using local demonstrations and peer to peer learning. This project will also complement the Grassland 2.0 project funded by a USDA-SAS CAP grant, which takes a similar peer to peer learning approach to perennial forage adoption. (Letters of support from both Sand County Foundation and Grassland 2.0 are included.)
Our project will focus on the eastern states of the North Central Region where specialization has been more pronounced and will further our understanding of the current status of farmers using specialized systems, farmer attitudes toward integrated systems, and incentives for them to consider adapting their farming practices to incorporate more continuous living cover in both annual and perennial components of their farms.
There are significant policy, economic, infrastructure, and social barriers to restoring livestock agriculture to a landscape and community once it is gone. In addition to incentives for specialization, barriers to adoption of integrated systems on the individual farm level include the need for greater ‘managerial intensity,’ more knowledge or skilled labor, investment in infrastructure for both crops and livestock, and lifestyle changes (Garrett et al 2017).
Lack of local access to livestock equipment, feed, veterinarians, processors, technical assistance, and a network of knowledgeable peers are also obstacles to adoption in states like Illinois that have lost most of their livestock industry. Garrett et al, in their 2017 review paper, cited farmer attitudes and socioeconomic barriers as knowledge gaps. Initial qualitative work has been done to explore these barriers and assess farmer interest in integrated systems in the North Central Region (Wallace Center 2019), but no comprehensive surveys have yet been done. We anticipate that the survey work we propose will document the extent to which crop and livestock farmers in IA, IL, IN, MN, MO, and WI feel these barriers, and will capture these farmers’ thoughts on possibilities to overcome barriers.
In our MPFWG discussions leading up to this proposal, members who work with farmers described their back-of-the-envelope methods of showing farmers how crop and livestock enterprises could be integrated in the farm’s financial recordkeeping. We identified a need to refine and document those methods and make them more widely available to farm educators and farmers across the region. This project will allow us to create the space for a handful of those farmer education and farm financial management experts to do that financial integration documentation. The survey will help us identify farmers who have adopted innovative crop and livestock integration strategies, and test financial enterprise integration tools in case studies of their farms. The case studies will also allow us to highlight these farmers’ stories of integration, helping to fill what is currently a gap: there are few success stories of crop and livestock integration on a scale and with crops that represent the most typical farms in the North Central Region.
The Green Lands Blue Waters Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group (MPFWG) is a partnership among universities, agencies, farmer organizations and non-profits within the Upper Mississippi River watershed. Partners support well-managed forage production through development and sharing of educational resources and expertise, and conducting coordinated regional programming that amplifies impact of innovative ideas and farmer-to-farmer learning. Previous work related to this project include contract grazing fact sheets and a Midwest Grazing Exchange website (https://www.midwestgrazingexchange.com/) as well as research projects conducted by the Pasture Project, Land Stewardship Project and others.
While several of our current partners (Practical Farmers of Iowa, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota) do programming in both crop and livestock systems, this project seeks to broaden our coalition of farmer groups and increase our educational capacity on crop and livestock integration across the region. We intend to spend the first year of the project building engagement and trust among the organizations involved through a shared process of developing the survey instruments and survey promotional materials, to create a sense of shared ownership of the project among the diverse types of organizations.
The last several years have been economically challenging for many farmers. Climate change-induced extreme weather events and the Covid pandemic are just the latest threats to agriculture’s social, economic and environmental sustainability and resilience. This project will strengthen our regional coalition by engaging more farmer organizations, including those supporting underserved audiences, and surveying their members about an array of challenges Midwestern agriculture faces. Barriers to entry into livestock production are significant for underserved farmers and farmers of color. The survey will provide real data on farmers’ needs and goals and allow the team to develop regional programming and resources that help farmers move toward integrated livestock and crop systems and can help build that resilience.
- Boody and Meier 2020. Farming with Well-Managed Grazing & Continuous Living Cover Enhances Soil Health & Addresses Climate Change (https://landstewardshipproject.org/carbonfarming)
- Chasdon et al. 2017. A Field Guide to Ripple Effects Mapping. Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute, University of Minnesota (https://extension.umn.edu/community-development/ripple-effect-mapping).
- Chavas JP et al 2009. Organic and Conventional Production Systems in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial: II. Economic and Risk Analysis 1993–2006. Agronomy Journal, 101, 288–295.
- Crews et al 2018. Is the future of agriculture perennial? Imperatives and opportunities to reinvent agriculture by shifting from annual
- monocultures to perennial polycultures. Glob. Sustain. 1. https://doi.org/10.1017/sus.2018.11.
- Franzluebbers et al 2012. Well-managed grazing systems: A forgotten hero of conservation. J. Soil and Water Conservation 67: 100A-104A.
- Garrett et al 2017. Social and ecological analysis of commercial integrated crop livestock systems: Current knowledge and remaining uncertainty. Agricultural Systems 155: 136-146.
- Olmstead and Brummer 2008. Benefits and barriers to perennial forage crops in Iowa corn and soybean rotations. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems: 23(2): 97-107.
- Plastina, A., Liu, F., Miguez, F., & Carlson, S. (2020). Cover crops use in Midwestern US agriculture: perceived benefits and net returns. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 35(1), 38-48
- Prokopy et al. 2020. The urgency of transforming the Midwestern U.S. landscape into more than corn and soybean. Agriculture and Human Values 37: 537-539.
- Spratt et al 2021. Accelerating regenerative grazing to tackle farm, environmental, and societal challenges in the upper Midwest. J. Soil and Water Conservation 76: 15A-23A.
- Sanford et al 2021. Perenniality and diversity drive output stability and resilience in a 26-year cropping systems experiment. Field Crops Research 263. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2021.108071)
- Sulc and Tracy 2007. Integrated Crop–Livestock Systems in the U.S. Corn Belt. Agron. J. 99:335–345.
- Sulc and Franzluebbers 2014. Exploring integrated crop–livestock systems in different ecoregions of the United States. European Journal of Agronomy 57: 21-30.
- Taylor-Powell et al 1998. Evaluating Collaboratives: Reaching the Potential. UW Extension Learning Store (https://learningstore.extension.wisc.edu/collections/designing-evaluations/products/evaluating-collaboratives-reaching-the-potential-p1032).
- Thaler et al 2021 The extent of soil loss across the US Corn Belt. PNAS February 23, 2021 118 (8) (https://www.pnas.org/content/118/8/e1922375118)
- Wallace Center 2019. Current state and potential future for livestock grazing and grass-fed/finished markets in Illinois: A qualitative study of stakeholder perspectives (https://live-the-pasture-project.pantheonsite.io/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Illinois-Grazing-White-Paper.pdf)
- Willhite et al (no date). Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/nutrient/documents/illinois-nlrs-public-comment-11-20-14.pdf
- Williams and King 2018. Benefits of Planting and Grazing Diverse Cover Crops https://pastureproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/CIG-Full-Trial-Report.pdf
Approach and Methods
Year 1: Partnership development, review literature and collect resources, develop survey instrument(s), develop survey promotional materials, develop farmer interview protocols for case studies.
Year 2: Deploy survey, begin case study development, begin planning educational programming, begin survey summarization, begin resource library development with existing resources.
Year 3: Complete case studies, complete survey summary, conduct case study field days and other workshops, webinars, and conference sessions, complete resource library development with newly generated resources.
The project team currently includes representatives of farmer organizations, agencies and universities in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Several project partners are farmers themselves (Alber, Anderson, Jewett, Jordan, Luhman, Mahalko, Paine, Schriefer, Shanks). We have begun establishing an advisory team that will include representatives of at least 20 organizations including those that represent crop and livestock farmers and underserved farmers. The advisory team will also include at least one livestock farmer and one grain farmer from each state. These advisory team members will help create and test the survey instrument, interpret the results, and guide development of and participate in programming. Each farmer-advisor will be offered an honorarium of $600 per year in each of the three years of the project for their efforts.
Coalition Building. One goal of this project is to engage a wide spectrum of organizations, institutions, and agencies in collective outreach to and learning from their membership. Coalition building will be carried out collectively by MPFWG team members in each state along with the project leads. Current project partners will work together to engage additional partners in each state. Current MPFWG team members represent the following organizations: University of Illinois Extension, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa State Extension, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota College of Agriculture and Extension, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of Missouri Extension and Agroforestry, University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Extension, GrassWorks, Inc., and regional partner the Pasture Project.
New organizations joining the partnership for this project include the Artisan Grain Collaborative, Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association, University of Missouri Beef Extension, the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, UW Corn Extension program, and Green America’s Center for Sustainability Solutions. The livestock and large scale row crop farming sectors are historically dominated by white and mostly male farmers. Some of the barriers to entry for BIPOC farmers are well-known and systemic, and unlikely to be effectively addressed by this project. Working with Andrew Bernhardt, WI Department of Agriculture Specialist for underserved farmers, we will begin building relationships with organizations that serve these audiences and explore BIPOC farmers’ perspectives on these barriers and other topics such as culturally-based attitudes toward/relationships with the land and with livestock. Project partners will use coalition-building best practices (Chasdon et al 2017, Taylor-Powell et al 1998) to build strong relationships with new partners as well as document the results of our efforts. Each organization will be offered a $100 honorarium per meeting up to a total of $1,400 for an anticipated advisory team schedule of 6 meetings in Year 1, 4 meetings in Year 2, and 4 meetings in Year 3.
Building a collection of resources on livestock and crop integration. In year one, the team will work with existing and new partners to conduct an in-depth literature review to assess prior survey work on this topic and with these audiences. The team will gather resources into a virtual library of livestock and crop integration materials, housing it on existing websites of partner rganizations.. Current members of our team have already created resources and platforms of value to the project, such as the Midwest Grazing Exchange website (mentioned above) and the Pasture Project’s REGAIN network for collaboration among regenerative agriculture practitioners (https://regenerativeagideanetwork.org/). As materials such as reports, infographics, PowerPoints, and fact sheets are developed through this project, they will be added to the online collection.
Survey development and deployment.
Project leads Meier, Paine, and Jewett will work with the 0.3 FTE outreach coordinator to facilitate survey design discussions between the University of Wisconsin Survey Center and the project advisory team, including farmer advisors. With insights gained from collected resources the team will then create, test, and administer survey instrument(s) for livestock and grain farmers in all six states included in this project: IA, IN, IL, MO, MN, and WI.
Advice and feedback on survey question wording will be provided by UW Survey Center staff and the survey will be tested with farmer-advisors. Final formatting of the survey will be conducted by the UW Survey Center. The survey will be structured primarily for online deployment using the University of Wisconsin’s Qualtrics software, but will also be formatted and made available to partner organizations to send out in paper form. The Survey Center will advise on deployment strategies and outreach to maximize the response rate. Each project partner will conduct outreach and distribution of the survey among their members and audiences. Therefore it will not be sent to a random sample of farmers, but rather a sample drawn from partner organizations’ membership and other sources. Survey responses will be compared to existing USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data and other representative samples.
The survey will be designed to gather basic information from all respondents and allow specific, in-depth questions for different sub-groups of farmers (such as farmers who already have integrated crop and livestock systems, and underserved farmers). Input from project partners and farmer advisors will guide specific question development, but examples of themes we want to explore include the following: Livestock farmers will be asked about their grazing management and their interest in/attitudes toward partnering with crop farmers to graze cover crops, crop aftermath or rent land for pasture. Likewise, crop farmers will be asked about their interest in/attitudes toward incorporating livestock enterprises into their operations, allowing livestock farmers to graze cover crops or crop aftermath, or incorporating harvested forage crops into their crop rotations. Both groups will be asked about incentives, market and processing availability, and policies related to adoption of these practices. Underserved farmers will be asked about specific barriers that they face in engaging in livestock and grain production systems.
Other sections of the survey will include: 1) Farm organization, size, structure, and management practices (e.g. herd size, breeding strategies, land acreage, business structure, labor, facilities), 2) Land use management (e.g. crop rotations, tillage practices, input use, cover cropping, nutrient management), 3) Marketing and financial management (e.g. products/commodities sold, direct/commodity markets used, income streams, farm enterprises), 4) General questions on attitudes, policies, and interests (e.g. opinions on policy and federal, state, and local programs; attitudes toward their sector, community, and environment), 5) Household demographics (e.g. age, family structure, off-farm income, farm succession).
The process of working together on pooling resources and survey development will create a framework for new and existing partners to share information, gain an understanding and appreciation of each other’s perspectives, and build relationships of trust and shared goals. These partners will help secure support and publicity for the survey and encourage participation of their members and others. Engaging a broad spectrum of farmer organizations in this project early on at the survey development stage will build a foundation for far-reaching, effective programming to be developed later in the project and beyond.
Survey Results Dissemination
The survey results will be summarized at state and regional levels. Results will be shared with participating organizations, and disseminated to farmers and farm educators through those organizations’ networks as well as to the general public. Summarization of the survey results will yield recommendations on research gaps, educational programming needs and policy strategies. Because there is little current information available on farmer practices and attitudes related to integration of crops and livestock, we expect the survey to generate new ideas and topics for educational programming, some of which may be implemented in the final year of the project and some of which we anticipate being moved forward by others after the completion of this project.
This project is, by nature, multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional, engaging annual cropping system and livestock system experts, across a range of institutions and organizations. We will work with our advisory committee that will include crop and livestock farmers as well as representatives from organizational and institutional partners on development of educational materials and activities featuring peer-to-peer learning opportunities that focus on livestock and crop reintegration and support broader regional sustainability goals. We anticipate that many of the organizations involved will use the information generated from this project as a resource to develop educational materials targeted to their own audiences beyond the end date of this project.
Case Studies. While the literature review and survey development are underway in year one, a smaller team of experts in farm-level crop and livestock integration and farm financial management will develop a set of farmer interview protocols including key economic indicators for integrated systems. Experts identified to participate in this protocol development are Denise Schwab (IA State University), Allison VanDerWal (Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association), Jordan Thomas (University of Missouri), Jeff Duchene (USDA-NRCS), and Jim Paulson (grazing consultant.) Members of MPFWG will work with other project partners to identify 8 farmers who have successfully integrated livestock and annual rowcrop systems, with the goal of documenting a range of integration strategies across the six state region. In year two, we will contract with a team member to interview each of these farmers and develop a case study describing their farming operation and their transition process to an integrated system. Each farmer will receive a $600 honorarium for their participation. The small group of crop and livestock integration experts will then reconvene to investigate and summarize economic themes among these 8 successfully integrated farms. Fact sheets and powerpoint presentations will be developed, similar to those we created for a similar 2017 project on dairy grazing (https://greenlandsbluewaters.org/midwest-perennial-forage-working-group/#dairy-grazing). Materials will be shared in the library of crop and livestock integration resources.
Field Days. In year three, six of the case study farmers will host a field day in cooperation with MPFWG and in-state partner organizations to share their story and their practices. Host farmers will be offered a $600 honorarium in addition to $400 per field day to cover field day expenses such as rental of canopies and port-a-potties, snacks, transportation for accessibility, etc. Project team members and in-state partners will have access to a $600 travel allowance per field day to support their attendance. Presentations at these field days will include summary information across the case study farms and from the survey results.
- Increased collaboration and partnership among 20 agricultural organizations within the six state region, including engagement between grain producer and livestock producer organizations, leading to long-term communication and shared programming.
- Further leadership development for 6 grain farmers and 6 livestock farmers who are already leaders in their respective states and industries
- In-depth literature review and resource collection with contributions from all project partners.
- Comprehensive survey instrument(s) that can be used with livestock, grain, and underserved farmers.
- Survey deployment to at least 10,000 farmers in six states through farmer organizations and general outreach; survey completion anticipated by at least 3,000 farmers.
- Survey analysis and reporting; summary of results for individual states and regionally; development of sets of recommendations for policy, research, and educational programming.
- Development of a financial interview protocol for farmers who are integrating crops and livestock, which can be used by farm educators and advisors beyond the end of this project.
- Development of 8 case studies of farmers in the six-state region who have successfully integrated livestock and crops in a diversity of ways; including narrative for each farm, fact sheet summarizing economic indicators of successfully integrated systems, educational fact sheets and power points summarizing results across farms.
- Six field days across the six-state region, attended by at least 300 farmers. Additional workshops, webinars, and conference sessions will be conducted through partner organizations’ existing educational programming.
- Dissemination of results through partnering organizations’ channels, farm-oriented media, and general media.
Outreach activities are built into every aspect of this project.
Outreach to organizations. Initial outreach will involve existing Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group partner organizations in each state engaging with new partners in their state, especially those representing or with significant interests in row crop agriculture. We will also reach out to organizations representing farmers of color or other underserved farmer audiences to participate in the survey project. All of our outreach to organizations will serve to build relationships that will support mutually beneficial educational programming over the long-term.
Outreach to farmers. Once the survey instrument is completed, partner organizations will work together to engage their members and the farming public generally to participate in the survey. Local, in-state, and regional outreach through the popular media will increase awareness of the survey project. In year three, when the survey is completed and summarized and the case studies are completed, we will work closely with partner organizations to organize and publicize 6 field days. These will take place on case study farms in each state to share information on the survey results and for farmers to engage in peer-to-peer learning on livestock integration.
Outreach materials and events. Farmer case studies, survey summaries and other educational materials will be made available in the crop and livestock integration library. Both farmer oriented and educator oriented materials will be developed. These materials will be used by MPFWG partners in educational programming through their organizations. Outlets for this information will include at least the following organizations’ regular conferences: GrassWorks, Progressive Farmers of Iowa, Sustainable Farming Association, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, and the Green Lands Blue Waters conference, among others. Our existing organizational members currently utilize MPFWG materials in their ongoing outreach activities. By building a broader coalition of farmer organizations, we will expand the already significant outreach capacity of this project to reach new audiences.
The project is planned with a multi-level evaluation. Developmental evaluation of the partnership building effort will be conducted using tools such as collaborative evaluation (Taylor-Powell et al 1998) and/or ripple effects mapping (Chazdon et al. 2017). These methods will help track the progress of our effort, ensuring that partners are engaged effectively and that effective communication is developed and reinforced.
Advisory group participation by farmer advisors and partnering organizations will be documented during six online meetings in Year 1 and four online meetings each in Years 2 and 3.
Both individual farmer and partner organization outcomes will be documented through periodic brief surveys, polling during online meetings, or one-on-one phone check-ins. Partner surveys and polls will be conducted during and at the end of the project to identify changes in their programming and activities as a result of the project. All outreach activities such as field days and conference sessions conducted by the project team will include end-of-session surveys to assess learning and behavior change intentions of participants.
Evaluation metrics will include the following:
- # of organizations we engage to help develop and distribute the survey
- # farmers each organization reaches with the survey opportunity
- # livestock, grain, and underserved farmers that take the survey
- # of groups and educators that receive survey results
- # of farmers (livestock, grain, and underserved) who participate in case studies
- # of farmers (livestock, grain, and underserved) who participate in field days offered through this project
- # of farmers who express intent to pursue crop and livestock integration on surveys at field days offered through this project
- # of farmers who participate in relevant conferences, workshops, or other events offered by project partners during the term of this project
- # of farmers who express intent to pursue crop and livestock integration on session or event surveys offered by project partners
Summary Table of Outcomes, Inputs and Activities, Outputs and Evaluation
Activities & Inputs
Project team members and others design and launch educational, market development, and policy work based on information gained from surveys
Farm advisors and farm educators outside of the project team will utilize survey data and education and outreach tools in their work with livestock and crop producers, to encourage integration of livestock and grazing with cropping systems.
Expanding acreage under continuous living cover will protect surface and ground water quality. Grassland wildlife will flourish.
Rural community vitality will improve as integration of livestock and cropping systems generates more pathways to profitability for farmers.
20+ partner organizations build trust and capacity to work on crop and livestock integration through collaborative process
10,000+ farmers gain information about crop and livestock integration from survey and promotional materials
300 farmers gain first-hand information about crop and livestock integration and witness a farm successfully pursuing integration
500 farm educators and farm advisors learn about farmer attitudes, barriers, and needs around crop and livestock integration; and learn about examples of successful crop and livestock integration and the financial enterprise integration tools.
Concepts of integration of livestock and crops systems receive media attention that builds public awareness across the region as the survey is promoted widely in 6 states
Working advisory team of at least 12 farmers and at least 20 regenerative, mainstream, and underserved farmer organizations formed
Survey promotional materials and survey instruments developed in collaborative process with consultants and project advisory team
Survey deployed by partners and promoted to minimum of 10,000 farmers in 6 states
3,000 crop farmers and livestock farmers respond to the opportunity to be heard and help generate information and approaches to education around integration of livestock and crops.
Survey results analyzed and used to generate reports, presentations, infographics, fact sheets for use by partners and others
Resource library including project documents developed & housed on partner organizations’ websites
Farmer interview protocol and key economic indicators for crop and livestock integration developed
8 case studies developed featuring variety of successful crop and livestock integration models
300 farmers attend field days in 6 states
500 farm advisors and educators in the 6-state region engage with case studies and information generated by the survey.
Recruit minimum of 8 additional organizations for advisory team
Recruit 6 crop and 6 livestock farmers for advisory team
Literature review and call for resources
Survey promotional material development
Survey development, deployment, collection, analysis, reporting
Contract with 4 experts in crop and livestock integration and farm financials to develop farmer case study interview protocols
Recruit 8 farmers with successful crop and livestock integrated systems as case study subjects
Conduct field days on 6 case study subjects’ farms, one in each state
12 existing partner organizations involved in Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group
Univ of Wisc Survey Center expertise
Dedicated 0.3 FTE coordinator for collaborative work
Experienced project administrators
Track farmer-advisor and organizations’ participation in 14 advisory team meetings
Throughout project, conduct brief surveys and polling of farmer advisors and partner organizations to document attitudes toward the collaborative work
Track survey deployment by partner organizations; number of farmers reached
Count survey returns
Document dissemination of survey results to partners, others in partner networks
Count attendees at field days, related conference sessions, workshops, etc.
At field days, sessions, etc.; survey and document farmer attitudes toward crop and livestock integration practices
Track visits to online collection of resource materials and downloads of documents
Team Experience and Roles
- Erin Meier, Director, Green Lands Blue Waters. Meier will provide project oversight and grant management.
- Laura Paine, Outreach Coordinator for Grassland 2.0 and GrassWorks, Co-chair MPFWG. Paine will co-lead the project along with Meier and Jewett, facilitating partnerships, survey development, and outreach activities. She will serve as liaison with the UW Survey Center, contribute to summarization of results and development of educational resources.
- Jane Jewett. Associate Director, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, University of Minnesota and staff lead for Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group. Jewett will contribute to project management with Paine and Meier; and provide outreach coordinator oversight (0.3 FTE outreach coordinator to be hired) and assistance with tasks.
Initial Farmer Advisors:
- Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz, Redwood County, MN (row crop, pasture, integration of livestock)
- Jim Grace, Albany, MO (beef cattle)
- Rick and Kathy Kaesebier, Kaesebier Farms, Elkhart, IL (corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle, sheep, chickens, honeybees)
- Nancy Kavazanjian and Charley Hammer, Beaver Dam, WI (row crops)
- Craig Mold, Chisago County, MN (row crops)
- Randy Riediger, Riediger Farms, Hinton, IA (beef cattle, swine, grain, cover crops)
- Trent Sanderson, Sanderson Ag, Clare, IL (corn, soybeans, cattle)
- Ron Schoepp, Schoepp Farms, Lodi, WI (custom heifer raising, grain, annual & perennial forages)
- Michael Willis, Willis Farms, King City, MO (corn, soybeans, wheat, cereal rye, oats, winter barley, cattle)
Other Project Team members:
- Laura Flint Gentry, Illinois Corn Growers Association Director of water quality research. Will assist the project in engaging Illinois grain farmers in the survey project.
- Doug Gucker. U-IL Extension small farms & managed grazing specialist. Member of the MPFWG and will help the project engage with Illinois livestock farmers.
- Lisa Holscher, Director, Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative. Will participate in project activities and assist in engaging both livestock and crop farmers in Indiana.
- Iowa Corn. Will participate throughout the project, help develop and distribute the survey, and encourage their members' participation.
- Iowa Soybean Association. Will participate throughout the project, help distribute the survey, and encourage their members' participation.
- Meghan Filbert, Practical Farmers of Iowa. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project and engagement of PFI members in the survey.
- Denise Schwab, Iowa State Extension. Beef nutrition, forage management, economics. MPFWG member, assist with engaging beef producers in Iowa, developing financial tools for farmer case studies, and summarization of case study results.
- Kelly Anderson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Livestock and grazing. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project and engagement of Minnesota livestock producers in the survey.
- Constance Carlson, UMN Forever Green Initiative & Sustainable Farming Association. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project.
- Dr. Anna Cates. UMN Extension and MN Office for Soil Health. Soil health research and Extension. The MN Office for Soil Health works with stakeholders to improve soil health for water quality across MN. Cates will work with her network of local advisors and farmers to both publicize the survey and disseminate results.
- Jeff Duchene. USDA NRCS. Managed grazing. MPFWG member, will work on financial tool, will assist with all aspects of the project.
- Dr. Brad Heins, UMN Dairy grazing systems, forages and cover crop grazing. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project.
- Jared Luhman, Sustainable Farming Association Soil Health Specialist. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project.
- James Paulson, Fieldstone Consulting. Former U of MN Extension dairy educator. Will conduct 8 farmer interviews for case studies, using interview protocols developed by expert team as part of this project. Will do narrative write-ups of case studies and communicate with expert team regarding farmer financial information.
- Barbara Sogn-Frank, Land Stewardship Project Soil Health Team Organizer. Will assist with all aspects of the project.
- Allison VanDerWal, Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association. Will assist with creating the survey instrument and distribution to Cattlemen in Minnesota. Will assist with development of financial tool.
- Dr. Jordan Thomas, U of MO Extension. Beef production and genetics. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project and assist in engaging Missouri livestock producers.
- Bruce Shanks, Missouri Forage and Grassland Council. Grazing and livestock. Will participate throughout the project, help develop and distribute the survey, and encourage their members' participation.
- Ashley Conway, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project.
- Nadia Alber, WI School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project.
- Dr. Bradford Barham. UW Agricultural and Applied Economics. Assist with survey design and summarization of results.
- Andrew Bernhardt, WI Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Grazing, Organic, and Underserved Farmer Specialist. Work with the team to engage organizations serving farmers of color and develop survey questions specific to this group of farmers regarding interest in livestock farming, access to land, etc.
- Jacob Grace, UW Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. Assist with engaging Wisconsin livestock and crop farmers and with general communications.
- Dr. Joe Lauer, UW Extension Corn Agronomist and Ex Officio board member of WI Corn Growers Association. Will assist with engaging crop farmers.
- Kevin Mahalko, President, GrassWorks, Inc. Dairy Grazier, assist with engaging GrassWorks members and the grazing community in Wisconsin.
- Heidi Peterson, Vice President - Agricultural Research, Sand County Foundation. Currently has a SARE R&E project involving grazing cover crops, will assist with developing survey questions and disseminating the survey through their network.
- Gene Schriefer, UW Extension-Iowa County. MPFWG member, will assist with all aspects of the project. Assist with engaging both crop and livestock farmers in SW Wisconsin.
- John Stevenson, UW Survey Center. Will facilitate development of the survey instrument, including reviewing and providing feedback on the draft survey instrument, programming and debugging web survey into an “Open Survey” format and provide client with a URL to distribute through partners, and providing camera ready instrument for client to print/duplicate and distribute.
- Alyssa Hartman, Artisan Grains Collaborative. Work with her audience to engage in the survey, assist with questions specific to food grade grain-livestock integration.
- Pete Huff and Kelsey Vergin, Wallace Center at Winrock International. MWPWG team member, assist with all aspects of the project.
- Jessica Hulse Dillon, Green America Agricultural Working Group and Innovation Networks. Assist with survey development and engagement of their network across the region.
Response to Reviewers
This proposal has not previously been submitted to NCR-SARE.
In the pre-proposal phase, we indicated interest in pursuing long-term funding beyond the three years typically granted. We received several reviewer comments that they didn't see enough justification for long-term funding with this project. We also had discussion with Beth Nelson, the SARE R & E program administrator, about this issue. Ultimately we agreed with the reviewers that we do not have a sufficient plan in place at this time to pursue long-term funding as part of this proposal, so we dropped that aspect of our proposal. However, we do believe this project conducted over three years will lead to significant longer-term outcomes. We anticipate that partner organizations involved in the project, as well as others doing related educational programming and other types of work, will pick up where this project leaves off and develop programs based on the information gained. We have some statements from partners indicating their longer-term intentions to use the information. These were submitted as suggestions for the logic model but not included there because they are not activities that would be directly funded by this grant:
"Team members and others will match survey data with biophysical and spatial data to identify geographies where potential return on investment in livestock + crop integration matches farmer readiness for transition."
"Farm advisors and farm educators will utilize survey data and education and outreach tools in their work with cattle and grain producers, to encourage integration of livestock and grazing with cropping systems."
"Funders will use geographic analyses matched with survey data to target and launch financial incentives for integration of livestock and cropping systems."
Another area of reviewer comments we addressed was to clarify that it is a key objective of this project to build a strong collaborative network among regenerative agriculture organizations, mainstream crop and livestock organizations, and organizations of underserved farmers. We budgeted for a considerable amount of outreach and coordination work with the project advisory team, which will include all of these types of organizations, in order to give these groups an experience of communicating and working together over three years. We believe this shared work will forge lasting ties that will pay dividends for years beyond the end of this project.
Past, Current, and Pending Support
Impact on sustainable agriculture in the North Central Region
Diversification of enterprises, systems, and species on farms contributes to profitability and financial resilience of farms, as they become less dependent on any single income stream or crop. This project will foster farm enterprise diversification, opening opportunities for livestock producers to access more forage and opportunities for crop producers to access income streams involving livestock. Livestock enterprises have been demonstrated in multiple studies to have solid potential to enhance farm profitability.
Well-managed stands of perennial forage and cover crops have well-documented benefits for soil health, reduction of water runoff and soil erosion, and providing high quality wildlife and pollinator habitat. This project will document the value farmers place on forage and livestock in delivering these environmental benefits in the Upper Mississippi River Basin, and promote pathways that can bring crop and livestock production together; leading to increased forage acreage, with attending positive environmental outcomes.
Farmers across the Upper Mississippi River Basin have faced economic struggles, compounded by threats like climate change and COVID-19. This project will engage a coalition of farmer organizations in collaboratively assessing the needs of their audiences and identifying options that can help address financial and climate risk. Thoughtful documentation of farmers’ experiences and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning will provide a hopeful way forward for farmers who are committed to their land and communities.
Budget and Budget Requirements
|Category||Description||Amount Year 1||Amount Year 2||Amount Year 3|
|Farmer Cooperators||Honoraria for advisory team members||$7,200||$7,200||$7,200|
|Farmer Cooperators||Honoraria for case study subjects||$0||$4,800||$0|
|Farmer Cooperators||Honoraria for field day hosts||$0||$0||$3,600|
|Fee for services||Development of survey instruments||$16,866||$0||$0|
|Fee for services||Survey distribution||$0||$20,000||$0|
|Other direct costs||Advisory team participation honoraria for organizations||$12,000||$8,000||$8,000|
|Other direct costs||Development of protocols and analysis for the case studies||$6,000||$0||$6,000|
|Other direct costs||Survey analysis||$0||$0||$9,000|
|Other direct costs||Farmer interviews and case study narratives||$0||$9,000||$3,000|
|Other direct costs||Field day expenses||$0||$0||$2,400|
|Personnel - Fringe Benefits||Erin Meier Fringe Benefits||$657||$657||$657|
|Personnel - Fringe Benefits||Jane Jewett Fringe Benefits||$1,825||$1,825||$1,825|
|Personnel - Fringe Benefits||Outreach Coordinator Fringe Benefits||$4,102||$4,102||$4,103|
|Personnel - Salaries/Wages||Erin Meier Salary||$1,800||$1,800||$1,800|
|Personnel - Salaries/Wages||Jane Jewett Salary||$5,000||$5,000||$5,000|
|Personnel - Salaries/Wages||Outreach Coordinator Salary||$12,900||$12,900||$12,900|
|Printing and Publication Costs||Promotional materials development||$6,500||$0||$0|
|Travel||Consultant travel for farmer case study interviews||$0||$3,000||$3,000|
|Travel||Project team travel to field days||$0||$0||$3,600|
|Total Direct costs: (includes subawards)||$74,850||$78,284||$72,085|
|Indirect costs||Indirect Costs||$7,485||$7,828||$7,208|
|Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Total: $247,740||$82,335||$86,112||$79,293|
|Erin Meier Salary||2% FTE x 3 years for Project Coordinator role
Base Salary $87,425
|Jane Jewett Salary||7% FTE x 3 years for support to Project Coordinator and outreach coordinator in all project coordination tasks
Base Salary $64,350
|Outreach Coordinator Salary||30% FTE x 3 years on base salary = $43,000 for an Outreach Coordinator to be hired to support the project: regular outreach and progress updates to advisory team; scheduling meetings, note-taking; assemble resource collection; survey data intake and preliminary sorting; assist publication development: edit, format, create versions for distribution, disseminate.|
|Erin Meier Fringe Benefits||36.5% Fringe x $1,800 salary per year x 3 years
|Jane Jewett Fringe Benefits||36.5% Fringe x $5,000 salary per year x 3 years|
|Outreach Coordinator Fringe Benefits||31.8% Fringe x $12,900 salary per year x 3 years|
|Honoraria for advisory team members||1 crop farmer + 1 livestock farmer per state x 6 states x $600/farmer/year x 3 years to participate in online advisory team meetings
Advisory Team Members - based on four meetings per year at $150 honorarium per meeting; assuming 2 hour meeting x $75/hour because farmers are not salaried by an organization, so must cover their own benefits and opportunity costs
|Honoraria for case study subjects||8 farmers x $600 per farmer to participate in an interview and provide information about their crop and livestock integration, including financial information.
Case study subjects - hours spent with farm educator plus opening and collating their financial records, $50/hour x 12 hours per subject
|Honoraria for field day hosts||6 field days x $600 per host to open their farm for a field day in collaboration with in-state project team members
Field day hosts - hours spent prepping and hosting a field day; communication with project team re: site requirements; $50/hour x 12 hours per field day
|Promotional materials development||2 infographics x $2,500 per infographic; to be developed by design firm in consultation with advisory team.
1 video, 1 to 3 minutes in length x $1,500; to be developed by videographer in consultation with advisory team.
Two Background Stories infographics x $2,500 per infographic based on prior infographic invoicing from Background Stories in 2020
One 2-minute video clip at $1,500 based on prior video contracting experience from SFA and PFI
|Development of survey instruments||University of Wisconsin Survey Center fee for survey development in consultation with advisory team.
(Contract for Professional Service (CPS) agreement to UW)
|Survey distribution||20 organizations x $1,000 per organization for use of their existing outreach and communications tools and staff to distribute the survey to farmers
Organizational staff time to do distribution, 20 hours x $40/hour = $800
$200 per org to support communication suite subscriptions and fees
|Consultant travel for farmer case study interviews||8 farms x $750 average travel allowance per farm
545 RT miles per farm on average = $305 mileage
12 overnight lodging (some trips will require 2 nights) averaged across 8 trips @$150 per = $225
Average of 4 per diem meals @$55 per trip = $220
|Project team travel to field days||6 farms x $600 average travel allowance per field day for in-state project team members to attend
Average 535 miles for team members to travel to field days for $300 mileage reimbursement plus 1 night hotel ($150) and three per diem meals ($150)
|Advisory team participation honoraria for organizations||20 organizations x $100/meeting x 14 meetings scheduled over three years (6 meetings Year 1, 4 meetings Year 2, 4 meetings Year 3)
$50/hour for staff salary x 2 hours
|Development of protocols and analysis for the case studies||The Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group members (Denise Schwab, Allison Vanderwal, Jared Luhman, Jeff Duchene, and Jim Paulson) will develop the protocols for the case study interviews, 4 of these members will be paid through this project. 4 people x 15 hours/person x $100/hour = $6,000 in Year 1
This same team will assemble again after the case study interviews are completed to sort through the data collected and determine how it can be translated into useful fact sheets, worksheets, and protocols that educators and farmers can use in financial planning for crop and livestock integration. 4 people x 15 hours/person x $100/hour = $6,000 in Year 3
15 hours for travel time and farmer interview time per case study x $100/hour = $1,500
15 hours for information assembly, data incorporation and writing up case study x $100/hour = $1,500
Total = $3,000 per case study
|Survey analysis||$9,000 contract for analysis of survey data; summary by state, region, commodity, or other sorting; summary document development
We will need to contract with UW or U of MN faculty or others with specific expertise in survey data analysis. 60 hours x $150/hour; may include work by more than one individual.
|Farmer interviews and case study narratives||Grazing consultant Jim Paulson will conduct these interviews and write up the draft case studies using the protocols developed.
8 farmer interviews x 15 hours/interview x $100/hour = $12,000, split between Year 2 and Year 3
|Field day expenses||6 field days x $400 per field day allowance for expenses potentially including rentals (canopy, tables, chairs, port-a-potty); snacks; transportation for handicap accessibility.
Canopy rental, $100
Port-a-potty rental, $100
Handwashing station, $50
Snacks and beverages, $100
Printing of local promotional flyers, $50
|Indirect Costs||Indirect costs at 10% of Total Direct Costs|