Year: 2021

07 Dec 2021

$19 Million Research Project Seeks to Understand How Management Impacts Soil Health, Farmer Well-Being

$19 Million Research Project Seeks to Understand How Management Impacts Soil Health, Farmer Well-Being

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC – An international coalition announced a $19 million research project aimed at understanding how a farmer or rancher’s grazing management decisions impact soil health on pasture and rangeland (commonly called grazing lands) and – in turn – how soil health can positively impact a producer’s land and well-being.

Entitled Metrics, Management, and Monitoring: An Investigation of Pasture and Rangeland Soil Health and its Drivers, the project was announced today at the National Grazing Lands Coalition triennial meeting. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research awarded Noble Research Institute a $9.5 million grant to lead this critical research that is improving soil health on grazing lands. Noble Research Institute is providing $7.5 million to this project with additional financial contributions by Greenacres Foundation, The Jones Family Foundation and ButcherBox.

Pasture and rangeland soils contain about 20 percent of the world’s soil organic carbon stock but have largely deteriorated in many regions due to poor management, fragmentation or conversion to cropland. As soil health decreases, the land loses its viability to grow healthy plants, maintain flood- and drought-resilience or filter water.

For decades, farmers and ranchers who have implemented soil health principles have improved the overall health of their land and have experienced more profitable operations, however, these observations have – to this point – been largely anecdotal. This research is quantifying these observations and examining how management decisions on grazing lands are connected to the overall health of the ecosystem, including the social and economic well-being of the farmer, rancher and land manager.

“Enhancing soil resilience and productivity necessitates a major investment in research that provides farmers and ranchers with the best tools and information to make informed decisions benefitting their operations, said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to fund this audacious research that supports thriving farms and ranches while improving overall environmental health for the betterment of society.”

The project brings together researchers from 11 nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, private research institutes and public universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Led by Noble Research Institute, Michigan State University, Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming, collaborators include Oregon State University, National Grazing Lands Coalition, USDA-ARS (Maryland, Colorado and Wyoming), Savory Institute, Snaplands LLC,  The Nature Conservancy and  the UK’s Quanterra Systems.

The project will provide farmers and ranchers tools that simply and accurately measure outcomes of soil health in grazing land environments to guide management decisions and quantify the impact of intentional management. Measuring soil health requires techniques that are often site-specific and costly for ranchers.

“Our focus is to develop strategies to increase the value of measurement, reduce the labor and cost of measurement, and increase our understanding of soil health beyond a single site to the ranch as a whole,” said Rhines president and CEO of Noble Research Institute. “This information – in conjunction with working directly with land managers – will help us better understand the drivers that inform producers to adopt and implement soil health-focused management practices.

The study is unique in that it will focus on the soil health of grazing lands. Most soil health initiatives explore cropland, failing to address the hundreds of millions of acres of degrading pasture and rangeland. These acres are best suited for livestock production and are incapable of sustained production of crops for human food.

Pasture and rangelands are among the largest ecosystems on the planet, covering 70 percent of the world agricultural area. There are 655 million acres of pasture and rangeland in the United States. This is 41 percent of the land usage in the continental United States, making it the single largest use of land in the nation – more than row crops, cities and timberlands.

“Improving the ecological management of these hundreds of millions of acres, farmers and ranchers can be catalysts for sequestering carbon, better managing fresh water, reducing typical greenhouse gas emissions and building soil health, which all benefit society at large,” said Dr. Jason Rowntree, professor of Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State University and project co-lead. “In addition, applying these core agricultural principles also helps producers be more sustainable and profitable, ensuring they can leave a legacy of healthy land and brighter futures for their children. It’s a win-win.”

The project is exploring why some producers adopt soil health building principles, such as adaptive grazing management, while others do not. It is also examining social and economic sustainability (commonly called producer well-being), which have rarely been studied in agriculture, or in particular, livestock agriculture. Anecdotally, producers report that their profitability and/or quality of life improve when they adaptively manage their assets, including the soil, plants and grazing animals, according to Rowntree.

MEDIA INQUIRIES:

Colleen Klemczewski
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
Phone: 574.386.0658
Email: cklemczewski@foundationfar.org

Adam Calaway
Noble Research Institute
Phone: 580-224-6209
Email: jacalaway@noble.org

14 Oct 2021

Diversity and Phytonutrients

Diversity and Phytonutrients

A recent study published in Frontiers of Sustainable Food Systems adds credence to the value of diversity. The study compared meat and milk from livestock that had grazed pastures with a diversity of plants species (grasses, forbs, and legumes) to meat and milk from livestock that had grazed pastures with limited to no diversity of plants (i.e. a monoculture). What the study found was that products coming from livestock that graze diverse pastures are often higher in health-promoting phytonutrients such as terpenoids, phenols, carotenoids, and a variety of antioxidants – when compared to those coming off of monoculture pastures. Products from animals fed grain contain a reduced amount of these compounds or are absent from them entirely. The study also iterated that several phytochemicals found in grass-fed meat and milk are often found in quantities comparable to those found in plant foods and are known to have anti inflammatory, cardio-protective and anti-carcinogenic effects.

The way food is produced, and how those practices impact ecology, environment, and the health of consumers is of importance. This is something that we focus a lot of attention on at Greenacres, including funding and performing research to help us better understand these connections. Diversity is one of the attributes we study as a key indicator of the health of our pastures and woodlands. Based on the findings of this recent study, diversity has a large role in the nutritional quality of our products as well.

14 Oct 2021

A Responsible Protein Source

A Responsible Protein Source

How does Greenacres beef compare to plant-based “meat alternatives”? The ingredients used to produce these products (soy, peas, seed oils, rice, etc) are grown in huge, industrial agricultural operations that tend to specialize in and grow only one crop, a practice known as ‘monocropping’. Monocrop agriculture harms the environment in many ways; through the compaction and degradation of soils, the usage of huge quantities of pesticides and herbicides, the pollution of water, and the loss of biodiversity.

Along with physical compaction from heavy machinery, monocropped soils are often devoid of the lifeforms you’d find in healthy soils, like bacteria, invertebrates, insects, and fungi. This soil biology is largely responsible for the development of soil organic matter – which like a sponge is able to hold 18 times its own weight in water – and building soil aggregates, which provide pore spaces in the soil to allow water to easily infiltrate down into the soil profile. Thus, depleted biology leads directly to a loss of water absorption and retention, causing runoff and erosion to become serious issues.

Besides the environmental costs of monocrop farming, “meat alternatives” are also reliant on huge processing plants and long supply chains to turn a raw soybean into processed ingredients, like soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, and soy leghemoglobin. Highly processed foods take your food further from your farmer, further from the land on which the foods are grown, and are reliant on wealthy multinational corporations to keep the complex supply chains and processing plants operating.

Raising cattle on pasture actually improves the environment, improving both the quality and quantity of soil biology, sequestering carbon and building biodiversity. If you’re looking for responsible protein choice, look no further than 100% grassfed, grass-finished beef.

07 Oct 2021

The GISt of Missing Bobwhites

The GISt of Missing Bobwhites

Every May for the past 3 years, our research team has spent one morning a week at our Lewis Township facility in Brown County, listening for the mating calls of bobwhite quail. Starting before dawn, the team listens intently for their calls, hoping to hear at least one as a sign of their return to the area. Bobwhites have become a rarity in these parts and their natural habitats have experienced severe decline as small farms intermixed with forests and hedgerows are replaced by large row-crop fields. Our hope has been that as we transition this farm back to one with more bobwhite friendly elements, we will see their return. Unfortunately the team failed to hear any bobwhites, the same outcome as years 1 and 2. To get a better sense of why we weren’t seeing a reversal in this trend, Research Intern Luke Weyer chose to perform a habitat suitability assessment of the Lewis Township facility as his summer intern project.

A habitat suitability model measures the quality of habitat based on three life requisites: winter food, cover, and nesting. In order for bobwhites to thrive, all three must be provided by the environment.

“The data I collected on these variables were integrated into a geographic information system (GIS) to generate suitability maps for each requisite (see image). The results were less than stellar and not unexpected, given the lack of bobwhite calls. The model found moderate, but also adequate, suitability for both cover and nesting, yet food was much lower making it the limiting factor.”

– Luke Weyer, Research Intern

With this new data in hand, we have hope for future years. The native warm season grasses planted at Lewis Township are establishing well which will provide excellent habitat for bobwhites. These grasses provide the bobwhite more opportunities to find sheltered food sources, as well as more nesting cover.  “After the completion of my project, a bobwhite was heard near the property in August, so I think we’re moving in the right direction with our efforts” continues Weyer, “I look forward to what the future holds”.

Greenacres plans to continue monitoring and improving habitats for bobwhites in Brown County.

Winter food availability
Nesting suitability
Cover suitability
The range of suitability.