NEERA1603: Northeast Pasture Consortium
(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)
NEERA1603: Northeast Pasture Consortium
Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021
Statement of Issues and Justification
The Northeast Pasture Consortium is organized as a private-public partnership of farmers, agribusiness suppliers, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from the Northeast Region and Ohio with representatives from 12 land-grant universities (LGUs) in the Northeast Region and Ohio, USDA-ARS locations in Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and USDA-NRCS grazing land specialists and coordinators. These public-sector members conduct grazing research and/or provide pasture-based farming education and technology transfer. Private Sector members advise the Consortium on pasture-based farming issues that need further or new research, education, and technology transfer work to help them be better stewards of their pastures and livestock.
The current "official" Consortium membership is 276 with approximately 40 percent from the private-sector. Attendance at the our annual conferences that rotate around the Region has averaged 70 people with about a third each year from the private-sector. Leadership of the Consortium is provided by a 12-member Executive Committee that is co-chaired by a person from the private-sector and a person from the public-sector. Each year at the annual business meeting two new people, one from the private sector and one from the public sector, are elected to serve on the Executive Committee to replace outgoing committee members.
The mission of the Consortium, as adopted by the membership, is to link livestock graziers and federal, state, land grant, and private research, extension, and technology transfer groups and individuals into teams that identify, develop, coordinate, promote, and deliver pasture research, extension, and technology transfer leading to economically, socially, and environmentally sound and sustainable grazing-based livestock production systems for the Northeastern U.S. This includes dairy, beef, sheep, goat, and equine livestock enterprises across the region.
The following are pasture priority needs identified by Consortium stakeholders and updated at the 2015 annual conference (farmers, agribusiness suppliers, and NGO's):
1. Exploring and explaining the impacts of stream and streambank exclusion from livestock grazing riparian areas.
This priority is an immediate need and is based on problems in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, especially in Maryland. State regulations are out due to EPA’s guidelines based on Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that call for livestock exclusion from streams and other water bodies that lie within pastureland to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads entering Bay waters. There is not a clear scientific-based answer as to the impacts of careful grazing management have on streambanks and water quality. Therefore, the regulations are not based on science but on perception. Further research is needed to support and extend existing research which at this point is not very extensive and sometimes lacking in methodology and execution. Some studies refer to some small streamside exercise lots (livestock primarily fed stored feed) as pastures just because some grass struggles to grow on them. Stock densities on them are clearly above what is sustainable pasture carrying capacity. Current and past research is being compiled in a literature review on the impacts of grazing riparian areas appropriate for eastern US pastures by ARS at University Park, PA.
2. Research problems with orchardgrass persistence.
Persistence has become a problem in hayfields throughout the Mid-Atlantic with some stands lasting only one or two years before dying out. This is disconcerting enough, but if it extends to pasturelands, we will be losing a major, highly productive forage species for grazing as well. Several factors have been identified as possible causes for the loss of orchardgrass, but it is still inconclusive what the underlying cause is. We are currently cooperating with Virginia Tech to assist a doctoral student with his research in finding out what is causing premature loss of orchardgrass stands.
3. More focus is needed on parasite issues for pastured small ruminants, especially given climate change and possibly a longer, warmer grazing season. Since synthetic dewormers quickly lose their effectiveness due to overuse, we are interested in seeking out botanical dewormers, such as birdsfoot trefoil, with condensed tannins that are natural dewormers that can be grown in pastures (work underway at Cornell & URI). We are also interested in selecting and breeding small ruminants that have a natural resistance to intestinal worms (work underway at WVU).
4. Research in meat and dairy products has found that omega-3 fatty acids (FA's) are higher in these products when they come from pastured livestock, while omega-6 FA's are lowered. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, therefore, is lowered significantly and is considered by the medical community to be more healthful to the consumer. In the Northeast, livestock have to be overwintered on stored forages and other feedstuffs which do not confer the same fatty acid synthesis. Currently, research is underway at UNH and ARS at University Park, PA, to overcome this problem by feeding small amounts of flaxseed to dairy cows in their winter feed ration to elevate omega-3 levels in milk. This looks promising.
The Dairy and Functional Foods Research Unit at Wyndmoor, PA is studying FA composition in grass-fed cow's milk and seeing how it and biological active compounds are affected by different milk processing techniques so as preserve these health-promoting components found in raw milk in processed milk.
5. Determine the environmental impacts and profitability of alternative supplemental feeding strategies for animals on high quality pastures. What is the effect of stock density as it pertains to soil health and animal health? How do you manage energy in a high quality pasture? Are there alternatives to feeding supplements? Many organic dairy farmers are trying to avoid feeding high priced organic grain. Work at UNH, UMaine, UVM, and ARS-University Park is exploring the feasibility of no grain or low grain supplementation.
6. Evaluate and promote annual forage species, improved varieties, and new species combinations under grazing management and changing climatic and soil conditions with emphasis on extending the grazing season (mid-summer slump and both ends of the growing season). Demonstration and research work being done at Cornell, UVM, and Penn State.
7. How to improve grazing lands with low inputs (especially land with C+ slopes) and using silvopasture techniques on under-stocked (w/trees) hardwood forests. This is a primary concern, especially given losing moderate quality land to corn production and pushing even more marginal land into production for grazing. Work being done primarily by Cornell. ARS-Beaver, WV was working on this until closed in 2012.
8. Determine the management strategies and costs of transition or conversion from row crops, forest, and idle ground to productive and sustainable grazing lands and soils. How do you start the soil biological community when transitioning from row crop, forests, and idle ground to grazing lands? Cornell and UVM looking at some facets of this priority.
9. Quantify the economics of whole-farm systems including the effects of breed selection, livestock diversification, and grazing management on animals and pasture health to promote safe, healthy, and secure local community food systems. ARS-University Park working on this.
10. Identify and address the limiting factors and marketing opportunities in dairy and livestock pasture-based production systems (grass-fed products). Produce summaries that are accessible to Extension Education, non-profits, and health professionals. ARS-University Park is working on this.
11. Explore new alternatives for transfer of knowledge and information to increase adoption of research findings with the agriculture community such as farmer mentoring, case studies, and creative use of technology in promotional materials. Produce summaries that are accessible to Extension Education, non-profits, and health professionals. ARS-University Park has created several fact sheets and is currently developing a tool for planning grazing on riparian pastures. UVM working on a computer tool for farmer use to evaluate how to reduce energy usage on grass-based farms. Demonstration work, conferences, and outdoor workshops at pasture-based farms on pasture management issues are very active around the Region. The Northeast Pasture Consortium conducted a Survey Monkey farmer survey in 2015 to garner more information on concerns pasture-based farmers have in managing their pastures. We are currently analyzing the feedback we got from the respondents.
The importance of the work, and what the consequences are if it is not done.
The future of rural communities in the Northeast depends upon solving the problems that currently limit the successes of existing farmers and the opportunities for new farmers. The Consortium relies on a private stakeholder-driven strategy that focuses on economic sustainability and environmental stewardship of plant-animal farming systems that yield healthy pasture-based animal products, sequester carbon, and cut fossil fuel use. Northeast farmers have led the way in developing innovative forage- and pasture-based systems that preserve open space in an urbanizing landscape. They need more objective and defensible information on grazing systems adapted to their unique growing conditions that provides relevant results to help graziers, agricultural lenders, and policy leaders make better informed decisions. This strategy must support these innovators on livestock farms of all sizes from New England to the Mid-Atlantic Region and Upper Midwest.
The technical feasibility of the research.
The study of pasture-based animal systems requires long-term research and a multidisciplinary approach. Plant ecologists, plant physiologists, agronomists, animal scientists, agricultural engineers, food chemists, soil scientists, and economists must work together to study individual components and various interactions of these plant-animal farming systems and their products to foster economically and environmentally sustainable farms. This research must be broad-based to include studying the impacts of these agricultural systems have on the environment, food quality and human health, and the well-being of rural communities. In addition to research, the Consortium also has an objective to get the research outcomes into use through Extension education and technology transfer through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. For the future, the Consortium also wants to foster the development of curricula in pasture management to train undergraduate and graduate students specifically so they can best assist pasture-based farmers achieve their economic, environmental, and family lifestyle goals.
The advantages for doing this work as a multi-state effort.
The results of a NERA-NEED survey in a previous project cycle indicated that there is very limited capacity in the Northeast Region to address Consortium stakeholder pasture priority needs. This remains an urgent issue with most LGUs having only one or two faculty or staff, with 0.1 or 0.2 FTEs devoted to the identified stakeholder priorities. Penn State and the University of Vermont have not replaced the only two full-time LGU pasture researchers in the Northeast Region who have retired. The shortfall in LGU research capacity makes it imperative that a multi-state approach be used to continue research and educational programming in grazing technologies. The USDA-ARS unit at University Park, PA (ARS-UP), that has regional and national responsibility for pasture systems and water quality research, needs LGU researchers to collaborate with in the Northeast Region.
The University of New Hampshire has an organic dairy program. The New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station's Organic Dairy Research Farm, the first of its kind at a LGU, is the centerpiece of a sustainable agriculture field station at the Burley-Demeritt/Bartlett-Dudley Farm in Lee, New Hampshire. This facility offers an opportunity for a nation- and region-wide multi-state approach to solving problems associated with this agricultural production system (NY, PA, and VT rank 3rd, 5th, and 6th in organic milk production in the US) (2014 NASS Organic Survey, Table 17. Organic Livestock Products and Poultry Products Sales – Certified and Exempt Organic Farms). The use of grazing technologies is central and now mandatory (USDA, NOP, Part 205, 02/12/2010) to organic animal production systems. The Consortium provides an excellent forum for discussion and facilitation of multi-state efforts in both traditional and organic dairy and livestock grazing systems. There remains a priority need for additional animal science and agronomic grazing research capacity in the Northeast Region -- people who can work in the Northeast Region on a multi-state basis.
What the likely impacts will be from successfully completing the work.
The last three project cycles have shown that the Consortium private-public partnership model can be productive and beneficial. Several recent accomplishments are as follows: expanded and refined the list of stakeholder priority needs to eleven for grazing research and education in the Northeast Region that serve as the template for all Consortium actions; conducted a survey through NERA and NEED regarding the capacity of the LGUs in the Northeast to address our stakeholder needs (results showed very limited LGU research capacity, especially animal science); facilitated and supported grant proposals (with participating Consortium farmers) to the USDA-NRI and SARE competitive programs and recently the OREI grant program of NIFA, several of which were funded or pending; continued development and use of the NEPC Grazing Guide website http://grazingguide.net/; facilitated new collaborations and partnerships among Consortium members -
(1) Rutgers University Equine Science Center (research, teaching, and extension), USDA-NRCS-NJ (technology transfer), and equine industry leaders (personal experience) conducting joint field days and educational events for equine users in New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic Region,
(2) the UMASS Upper Northeast Pasture Center at Deerfield, MA, where pasture forage trials are conducted in cooperation with ARS-UP and 150 acres of hillside pasture are available for research,
(3) the NHAES Organic Dairy Research Farm at Lee, NH,
(4) the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Pasture Program, and
(5) the Pasture Based Beef Systems for Appalachia research effort by ARS-Beaver, WVU, VA Tech, and UGA; and appointed a private-sector Stakeholder Action Committee that was successful in working with Congress during the FY2006 and FY2008 budget cycle to restore pasture funding for USDA-ARS at University Park, PA, and to obtain new funding for USDA-ARS at Coshocton, OH. With vigilance and diligence, the Stakeholder Committee kept the ARS-University Park pasture research facility open in the Northeast Region and collaborative pasture research has blossomed. In fact, the ARS-University Park location has been strengthened recently as it is now a Long Term Agro-Ecosystem Research facility. It was one of ten initial ARS research units given this designation. They are also are a part of the Northeast Regional Climate Hub. This is gratifying after two pasture research facilities were closed in 2012, Coshocton, OH and Beaver, WV, due to the ARS budget being slashed by Washington.
The NEPC effort must always be on-going as the competition for research dollars and personnel heighten nationally as new research priorities emerge and federal research dollars shrink.
The Research, Education, and Economics Mission Area (REE) of the USDA has identified five research priorities:
- Climate Change
- Global Food Security
- Children’s Nutrition/Health
- Food Safety
All of these areas either are currently being addressed by the Northeast Pasture Consortium membership or are in the proposal stage. As shown above, current research efforts in studying pasture soil carbon sequestration addresses the issue of climate change. Orchardgrass die-off may be caused by increased temperatures that may require new varietal selection or changes in cutting or cultural management changes to avoid premature stand loss. Global food security is being addressed by the Consortium by looking at ways food can be produced locally by pasture-based farmers which makes the region more self-sufficient and less prone to possible tainted outside food sources. Continuing work to study cow milk components that affect milk products quality and healthfulness relates to children's nutrition and health. Food safety as it relates to raw milk was showcased at our 2009 Annual Meeting in Morgantown, WV and still remains a topic of interest among the membership. Bioenergy research continues on with several forage species.
To develop and evaluate decision-support information and tools that help producers make appropriate plant, animal, and business management decisions.
To develop pasture-based production systems that support economically and environmentally sustainable livestock production.
To upgrade and enhance the Consortium website, the NEPC Grazing Guide, in order to better disseminate pertinent pasture-based technology to users.
To participate with the Chesapeake Bay Program Agriculture Work Group to ensure pasture landuse is accurately evaluated for its contribution to nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loading of Bay waters.
To facilitate, review, and provide support letters for grant proposals on pasture-based research, extension, teaching, and technology transfer topics consistent with Consortium stakeholder priorities.
To work directly with pasture-based livestock farmers to determine and address their concerns and needs involving pasture forage production, animal nutrition and health, pasture and supplemental feed allocation, as well as pasture facilities, layout, and design
To facilitate, review, and provide support letters for research grant proposals, legislative initiatives, and regulatory standards that enable, promote, and expedite the safe local marketing of wholesome, pasture-produced food products
To develop pasture-based production systems that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon, and adjust well to climate change to the maximum extent possible.
Procedures and Activities
1. Hold an annual meeting in the first quarter of each year, preferably before calving, foaling, and lambing season to facilitate pasture-based farmer attendance. This is held in conjunction with another event of interest to pasture-based farmers and other members of the Consortium. The annual meeting showcases current research activity, farmer initiatives, and Extension and NRCS outreach activities. It also is used to address new issues of concern and revise priorities.
2. Send out via email and regular mail 2 news updates each year to inform all Consortium members about the upcoming annual meeting's location, time, meeting facility, accommodations, and agenda.
3. The Executive Director provides latest Consortium updates to NEPC Grazing Guide webmaster, Sarah Goslee, ARS-University Park, PA. The webmaster with the aid of other Consortium members updates the website with new or revised pasture oriented technical notes and fact sheets. The webmaster ensures that all electronic links to other websites are current.
4. Email alerts are sent out to Consortium members to notify members of fast developing items that need their attention. This may include comment period deadlines on federal rules, legislative initiatives needing bipartisan congressional support from the Northeast delegation, and other items of interest to pasture people.
5. Letters of support are sent to the appropriate officials for research grant proposals and legislative initiatives that address Consortium objectives and priority needs.
6. Coordination of this work is done by an Executive Director and an Executive Committee who generally meet via teleconference once a month. Other communication is done via emails and individual phone messages as the need arises.
7. Work with the Chesapeake Bay Program to ensure that pasture conservation work to address water quality concerns of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment delivery to the Bay is given proper credit in reducing these pollutants to the Bay. Foster more research and review, critique, and summarize current pertinent research in this area to make sure we understand the mechanisms that come into play and better quantify their impact on reducing these pollutants delivery to surface waters.
Expected Outcomes and Impacts
- ARS in conjunction with the Consortium and Penn State University will develop and provide training on a Riparian Conservation Planning Tool to guide NRCS and SWCD grazing lands technicians, Extension specialists, and their farmer clients properly manage grazing in riparian pastures to protect water quality while producing continued pasture-based food and fiber products from those pastures.
- Find the cause of orchardgrass die-off so that steps can be taken to improve its management, or if need be, support the beginning of breeding cultivars that are resistant to the underlying cause.
- Use of botanicals and animal breeding to reduce intestinal worm loads in small ruminants research will continue thus reducing reliance on pharmaceutical solutions. As these techniques are verified as effective by researchers and introduced to the farm community by educators and technicians, these techniques will be adopted by Northeastern US pasture-based farmers producing more economical gains in meat and fiber products.
- Research will be finalized in pastured dairy cow feeding that provides a consistent lower omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid composition ratio in their milk year-around to maintain the healthfulness of the raw milk during the barn season when off-pasture due to adverse weather. Discovery of the impacts of processing (pasteurization, skimming fat, & homogenization) this milk has on the fatty acid ratio and other biologically active constituents in the final product(s) consumed by the end user. Publicize the results processing has on milk fatty acid ratios and other biologically active constituents in milk and milk products to inform the general public and health officials on the consequences.
- The Consortium will provide the Chesapeake Bay Program with the best available data to most accurately assess the impact the pastureland use in the Watershed has on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loading to Bay waters for Bay Model version 6.0.
- Complete a farm energy audit computer tool for use by farmers and their mentors to increase the efficiency of farm energy usage and increase their profitability and survivability as a farm unit.
- Collaboration with pasture-based farmer end-users provides better insight into what pasture-based information is required to improve the rate of adoption and make grazing more profitable for livestock farmers. Improves the viability of the livestock industry in the Northeast Region.
- Grazing Guide website is kept current and informative increasing viewer-ship and dissemination of new pasture-based technology to those seeking the information. Results and recommendations are available to providers and end-users in a timely manner.
- Grant proposals are based on priorities identified by the Consortium. New funds awarded for pasture-based research and education programs. Livestock farmers involved in proposals and the conduct of on-farm research and field demonstrations.
- On-going exchange of ideas and experiences between pasture-based farmers and the public-sector agencies builds trust between the pasture-based farming community and public-sector providers. Assures relevance and accountability of programs supported by the investment of public and private funds.
- Providing needed pasture-based technical assistance to all pasture-based farming areas of the Northeast by whatever means are necessary to overcome such issues as static or shrinking budgets, lack of experienced or adequately trained personnel, and distance to farm issues.
Projected ParticipationView Appendix E: Participation
One of the primary objectives of the Consortium is to disseminate new and existing grazing technologies to pasture-based farmers and other users. The structure of the Consortium facilitates the linkage of users and providers of this information. NRCS grazing specialists, Extension educators, and private consultants are key participants in the Consortium and in the transfer of grazing knowledge to users. NRCS encourages its agency grazing specialists in the Northeast Region to participate in the Consortium.
NRCS conservation programs provide opportunities to reduce risk and encourage the adoption of new technologies that have been researched by ARS and the academic community. More research results are needed by NRCS that can be applied in managed grazing systems to help farms become more profitable and better stewards of the land. This will help NRCS achieve its mission to apply conservation to America's grazing lands. The Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, administered by NRCS, provide funding to apply or enhance upon these new technologies.
Most of the grant proposals, supported by the Consortium to-date, have contained a strong educational component. It is clear from the discussions with pasture-based farmers over the last twenty years that they support the need for continued research, but they want the results in a timely manner and packaged for both beginning and experienced graziers. The Consortium also promotes the teaching of undergraduate and graduate students and development of curricula on pasture-based systems across the Region.
Consortium annual meetings bring together a diverse group of pasture-based farmers, researchers, private and public technical providers, nongovernmental organizations, and regulating agencies. Through the exchange of perspectives and experiences, all participants are able to learn about and better understand the grazing opportunities and challenges in the Northeast Region.
The Consortium is lead by co-chairs, one each from the public and private sectors. In addition, the past co-chairs, the incoming co-chairs, and two members-at-large serve on the Executive Committee. The term of the co-chairs is one year. The incoming co-chairs assume leadership at the end of each annual meeting. The shared leadership between the public and private sectors brings success to the partnership. The Executive Committee handles Consortium business between annual meetings and provides needed continuity from year to year. Two members of the Executive Committee, one each from the private sector and the public sector, are elected by the membership during the business meeting at each Annual Meeting. In addition to these 8 public sector and private sector members, there are four ex-officio members - Chair of the Stakeholder Action Committee, the Executive Director, the Principal Investigator (LGU member), and an ARS employee from the Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research Unit, University Park, PA.