Overcoming Barriers to Grass-Based Agriculture in the Driftless Region
In the Driftless Region of Northwestern Illinois and Southwestern Wisconsin, working grasslands have been dramatically decreasing over the past 30 years. The decline of grass-based farming practices has been associated with increased soil erosion, reduced water quality, and diminished wildlife habitat. Going forward it will be important to consider ways in which grass-based farming can be incorporated into farmer land-use decisions. Because farming is a profession, common sense tells us that agricultural land-use decisions are solely based on economic efficiency in production. While economic factors are undoubtedly an important aspect of agricultural land management, such factors do not offer a complete explanation.
Our project examines ways in which farmer land-use decisions are socially influenced in Grant County, WI, and Jo Daviess County, IL. To shift agricultural practices in the direction of sustainable practices, there is a need to understand and elevate the visibility of community-based influences on farming decisions. Land use strategies that are developed through collaborative efforts combine insights from both research and experiential knowledge. Incorporating various perspectives on agroecosystems offers advantages when implementing land-use strategies that integrate conservation within their production-based goals.
Our project’s learning outcome centers on gaining awareness of land-use perspectives from farmers, agricultural organizations, regional conservation groups, and researchers. With an understanding of a range of perspectives, the next learning outcome will be to consider how the adoption of grass-based farming practices should be implemented in the study region. Through collective dialogue and learning processes, an action outcome will be applied that works toward the adoption of grass-based farming approaches.
Project objectives from proposal:
The project is developed for farmers, community organizers, researchers, and extension staff to learn from one another and identify collaborative strategies for overcoming barriers to grass-based agriculture. The first learning objective centers on gaining awareness of land-use perspectives from farmers, agricultural organizations, regional conservation groups, and researchers. Through collective dialogue and learning processes an intervention will be developed and applied that works toward the adoption of a grass-based farming approaches. After this initial implementation there will be an evaluation and future action steps will be adjusted to account for lessons learned from the initial set of actions. By going through the processes of learning from one another and committing to actions, we believe there is a potential for a steady increase of working grasslands in our study site. These processes could also serve as a template for application in other parts of the North Central region.