Soil for Water

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $1,000,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipients: National Center for Appropriate Technology; Understanding Ag, LLC; Holistic Management International; JG Research and Evaluation; Mississippi State University; University of Arkansas; Virginia Association for Biological Farming; Virginia Tech University
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Mike Morris
National Center for Appropriate Technology
Dr. Eric S. Bendfeldt
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Dr. Dirk Philipp
University of Arkansas
Dr. Rocky Lemus
Mississippi State University, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences


  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, quality of life

    Proposal abstract:

    In this systems research project, we will identify practical and regionally appropriate methods of regenerative grazing and accelerate the adoption of these methods in Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia, especially by small to mid-sized, family-owned farms and ranches. By “regenerative grazing” we mean grazing that improves soil health and enables soil to catch and hold more water.

    Despite considerable efforts by many groups to promote regenerative grazing (under various names) over the past 30 years, and a recent surge of interest related to carbon sequestration and emerging ecosystem service markets, adoption rates for regenerative grazing remain low in many parts of the United States and may actually be falling. Controlled studies have often failed to validate the claims of proponents, and many barriers to adoption occur in various site-specific strengths and combinations throughout the Southern SARE region.

    With a talented interdisciplinary team that includes six universities, three NGOs, and eight farmer cooperators, we will take a wide view of this problem, rethink it, and attempt to make progress in a deep and lasting way. We will strongly emphasize participatory research, peer-to-peer learning, and support for pasture and rangeland monitoring. This approach has already proven successful in Texas and we will replicate it in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia. We will give special attention to the needs of underserved and limited-resource farmers—not only for reasons of fairness but because widespread adoption of regenerative grazing depends on showing that it can be done affordably and at any scale.

    The Soil for Water project ( began as a pilot project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) in 2015. We have honed our approach over the past five years, created new tools, and built a peer-to-peer learning network of Texas ranches that are running on-farm experiments, conducting rangeland monitoring, and sharing their findings. With funding received from the NRCS in 2020, we are currently expanding into the states of New Mexico, Colorado, and California. Interest is snowballing.

    From NCAT’s regional offices in Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia we will lead a coordinated effort that includes on-farm research, controlled studies, peer-to-peer learning (via the Soil for Water network), mentoring, educational events, and support for rangeland monitoring. We will create educational materials in multiple formats, including podcasts and professional-quality videos. We will feature innovative producers from the Southern SARE region in NCAT’s new nationwide Atlas of Regenerative Farms and Ranches. We will welcome and include partners and collaborators from Land Grant universities, NRCS, and grassroots organizations in all four states.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    (1) Identify practical and regionally-appropriate ways of improving soil health and catching more rainwater in soil.

    (2) Launch a new multi-state network of landowners who are conducting on-farm trials.

    (3) Improve communication and information-sharing among producers and agricultural professionals who are interested in regenerative grazing.


    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.