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Raven, Ma, R..; Rowntree, Ja, .; Hodbod, Je, .
Michigan State University
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Cattle production is one of the most important agricultural systems in the United States, accounting for $67.1 billion in cash receipts in 2018 and supporting 913,000 operations, of which 728,00 are small beef farms and ranches, commonly cow-calf operations on grass with under 50 animals (USDA, 2020).Producers rely on grasslands - almost half of US farms have cattle, with an above-average number in the North Central region, where livestock spend most of their lives on pasture.However, there are multiple challenges to the sustainability of grazing operations, particularly the degradation of grasslands which threatens the availability of natural resources. Sustainable management is not enough - regenerative management is required, that which optimizes agricultural resources with the intention of satisfying social and economic goals of the producer while also enhancing ecosystem services.Although modern technology has elevated most peoples' food security and material wealth, this has occurred at the expense of natural resources upon which humans ultimately depend. We now have a significantly degraded resource base in which the availability of quality soils, water resources, and other essential inputs are threatened while industrialization and consolidation have increased food value chain interdependence with other systems such as energy, decreasing the resilience of food systems to economic, environmental, or social shocks from the local to global scale(Hodbod & Eakin, 2015). Grasslands are not immune from these pressures and shocks. Over one-third of the World's land base are grasslands. However, 70% of these grasslands have been degraded with much of it desertifying(Middleton et al., 2011). Grasslands, including improved pastures, comprise one-quarter of the Midwest's agricultural lands and over three-quarters of these grasslands suffer from poor fertility, weed problems and erosion by both wind and water(Undersander et al., 2002).Mismanagement of large ruminants are a significant contributor to grassland degradation(Teague et al., 2011; Undersander et al., 2002). Broadly, there exist a continuum of grazing management practices from continuous grazing (livestock have access to all pastures for the duration of the grazing season) to adaptive multi-paddock grazing (high intensity, short duration grazing, with livestock moved into new pastures based on their health and regrowth), with different implications for the sustainability of the system. Continuous grazing is the most commonly used grazing system but within it plants do not have time to recover resulting in overgrazing and degradation to the paddock. Therefore, to improve ecological wellbeing in the North Central region requires an increased adoption of grazing practices that do not further degrade the resource base, and that instead regenerate the resource base - i.e. regenerative grazing. Regenerative grazing uses high-intensity, short-duration grazing to create long rest-times for pasture, and in doing so increases soil health, water infiltration, and biodiversity(Teague et al., 2016). To address the degradation of the natural resource base there is a need to increase regenerative grazing, as is the overarching objective of this project, which requires training producers in a) methods of regenerative grazing, but also b) monitoring the ecological wellbeing of their land to understand the impact of regenerative grazing. Such needs are critical to address as a degraded resource base makes it difficult to make environmentally beneficial management decisions on a grazing-based operation, compounded increasing stress resulting in poor quality of life, with physical and mental health concerns.
Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
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Food Defense and Integrity