River Friendly Farms Grazing School

Project Overview

EDS24-071
Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2024: $40,680.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipients: Cumberland River Compact; Tennessee Local Food Summit; Caney Fork Farms; National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS); Tennessee State University
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Mekayle Houghton
Cumberland River Compact
Co-Investigators:
Caroline Hutchins
Cumberland River Compact

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: decision support system, farmer to farmer, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, financial management, grant making, labor/employment, marketing management, new enterprise development, whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, employment opportunities, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, quality of life, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    The River Friendly Grazing School
    proposes to teach farmers to implement rotational grazing in
    their livestock operations, a practice that demonstrably improves
    the health and resiliency of farmers’ soil, pasture, livestock,
    and waterways. Healthier pastures and soil are better able to
    absorb rain and filter pollutants, thus reducing the
    contamination of waterways. It will encourage farmers to “grass
    finish” their animals, a practice for which consumers will pay a
    premium.

    A series of four workshops will
    be hosted in the spring and fall seasons of 2024-2026 and be led
    by renowned farmer, soil scientist, and grazing specialist Greg
    Brann. It will draw farmers from across Tennessee. 

    With grant funding, the Grazing
    School will be low-cost to farmers. It will draw historically
    underserved farmers through a partnership with the educational
    non-profit, the Tennessee Local Food Summit, as well as through
    outreach with the HBCU Tennessee State University’s New Farmer
    Academy. 

    Rotational grazing responds to a
    number of Tennessee’s concerns. The primary forage for continuous
    grazing operations is tall fescue, a cool-season grass that goes
    nearly dormant during Tennessee’s hot summer months. Climate
    models suggest that Tennessee’s summers will get hotter, drier,
    and longer. Rotational grazing can prevent the overgrazing of
    tall fescue and set aside paddocks of warm season and annual
    grasses for summer grazing.

    The time to increase adoption of
    rotational grazing practices is now. Studies have shown a number
    of unique barriers to adoption of these practices. Start-up costs
    can be offset by new funding to USDA NRCS cost share programs.
    Increased profitability has been shown to offset high management
    expenses. Producer unfamiliarity with rotational grazing is among
    the top barriers to adoption, and this River Friendly Grazing
    School project will address that impediment.

    Tennessee’s Department of
    Agriculture is tasked with approving Watershed Based Plans and
    administering EPA 319 Nonpoint Source Program grants. The
    Cumberland River Compact has written six plans and received
    approval on four plans with two plans pending approval. In
    addition, the Cumberland River Compact has also reviewed and
    edited two other Watershed Based Plans written by a project
    partner, who contracted the Compact to provide training to their
    staff. Our experience with Watershed Based Plans drives our
    commitment to partner with the agricultural community to find
    profitable solutions to environmental challenges. Improving soil
    health through rotational grazing can yield significant water
    quality benefits.




    Project objectives from proposal:

    • Enroll 60 farmers across
      Tennessee in 4 Grazing School Workshops, hosted in the spring
      and fall on farms in Middle and West Tennessee. 
    • Increase knowledge of
      rotational grazing practices. By providing them with this
      knowledge, farmers can increase their pasture health and
      productivity. 
    • Certify farmers who have
      implemented the multi-paddock system as River Friendly Farmers.
      This type of certification increases consumer trust and raises
      the price a farmer can charge for their product. It also
      establishes a outlet for peer-to-peer mentorship and connects
      these farmers into the future. 
    • Connect farmers with financial
      resources (NRCS, TAEP) to implement the practices
      learned. 
    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.