cows grazingThe healthy, sustainable practice of grazing livestock is getting some assistance by the Mountains-to-Bay Grazers Alliance. Photo by Harry Strite

Innovative Program Supports Farmers Interested in Grazing

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a new alliance is providing farmers with information, resources, and assistance to expand livestock grazing efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Mountains-to-Bay Grazers Alliance includes CBF, Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, Future Harvest–Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, University of Maryland Extension, Red Barn Consulting, Maryland Grazers Network, Maryland-Delaware Forage Council, and Capital Resource Conservation and Development Area Council, Inc. The grant will allow the Grazers Alliance to support farmers interested in grazing, and so increase the number of pasture-based livestock operations in the Bay watershed portions of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

A key element of the program is farmer-to-farmer mentoring. The grant will expand outreach and technical assistance for farmers who graze livestock in the three states and provide opportunities for current and new grazing farmers to share information. The program will include activities such as two-day Grazing Schools and field days, an annual planning calendar, a regional conference, a quarterly electronic newsletter, and an update of the "Amazing Grazing Directory" for direct marketing of grass-fed products. The hope is to create a regional network of more than 250 grazers in the three targeted states, as well as enrolling an additional 1,400 acres in pasture farming.

Another component of the grant is to estimate nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediments loads; greenhouse gas emissions; soil health; and economic benefits of eight farms that convert from traditional management approaches to more intensive grazing practices. This will result in a summary of water quality and carbon-credit generating potential as well as farmer attitudes toward these types of markets.

Seldom has one farming system provided so many benefits in such a variety of areas—farm profitability, global and local environmental health, soil health, and sustainability. Grazing's time has come, and its expansion across the region will be good for us all.

To learn what resources are available to farmers under this grant, please contact the appropriate person in your state:

In Maryland
Michael Heller, Chesapeake Bay Foundation,
Jeff Semler, Washington County Extension,

In Pennsylvania
Capital RC&D at 717-241-4361
Red Barn Consulting at 717-393-2176

In Virginia
Alston Horn, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, or 540-487-9060
Matt Booher, Virginia Cooperative Extension at 540-245-5750

This material is based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under number 69-3A75-16-038. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


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What are the Benefits of Grazing?

Good grazing management benefits the environment by capturing more rainfall on the pasture so that less runs off to nearby streams; helping to cycle nutrients and building healthy soil through vigorous vegetation growth; reducing the amount of fertilizer needed to grow feed on acres converted to grazing; and distributing manure across a wider area, instead of concentrating it near waterways and feedlots.

A May 2011 study by USDA Agricultural Research Service comparing grazing operations to conventional confinement dairies concluded that grazing operations reduced sediment erosion by 87 percent, reduced phosphorus runoff by 13 pounds per acre, increased carbon sequestration levels, and lowered ammonia emissions by 30 percent.

Equally important, good grazing management helps a farm be more productive: "Improved pasture management offers the single greatest opportunity to lower production costs, assuming that animal genetics, health, marketing procedures, and other areas of management have been addressed. A primary goal of livestock producers should be to utilize grazed forage for as many months of the year as possible . . ." (White, Harlan, Controlled Grazing of Virginia's Pastures, March 2009).

Also, when a farm is more productive it is likely to remain operational, keeping more land in agricultural use rather than other, more environmentally disadvantageous uses.

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