Biological, Financial, and Social Monitoring to Develop Highly Sustainable Farming Systems
The Monitoring Team completed a third year of research and education designed to test a process of on-farm observation and interaction that brings together farmers and other professionals. The Team of 24 people combines agricultural disciplines, ecology, rural sociology, hydrogeology and the perspectives of farmers, agency officials, researchers, consultants and non-profit staff. The project has focused on farms in transition to Management Intensive Grazing (MIG).
In 1996, the Team: collected analytical data on the six team farms and paired farms (nearby farms with similar soils or stream reaches); documented farmer observations; and tested selected on-farm indicators. For example, the Team collected soils data from 54 permanent plots sited on the six team farms and five paired farms. In addition, in-field comparisons led to identification of five soil monitoring tools to be included a monitoring tool box. Breeding bird and breeding frog and toad counts were conducted by volunteers and farm families. Information was collected from streams on four team farms and three paired sites on the same or adjacent streams.
Several preliminary findings suggest that MIG has broad ecosystem and socioeconomic benefits. Rested paddocks show promise as nesting sites and cover for endangered grassland bird species. MIG stations on two streams improved chemical, physical and biological parameters when compared to continuously grazed stations. A set of four economic indicators of sustainability show that the advantages of grazing go beyond profitability.
We are developing a tool box of monitoring indicators that can be used by farmers to see if they are making progress toward their goals. The tool box will contain narrative and visual aids from all the research areas and will encourage farmers to use a holistic management process. The Team will produce a prototype tool box by February 1997 that will be evaluated next year on at least 10 farms not associated with the existing Team.
The Team held five field days from June to September, involving a total of 240 people. Two articles were written in reference to the project in major popular publications. One article was accepted for scientific publication and at least 29 presentations were given by Team members since January 1996. Dick Levin’s publication, Monitoring Sustainable Agriculture With Conventional Financial Data, has been distributed to more than 440 people.