Jana Malot, PA state grazinglands conservationist, USDA-NRCS then spoke about Pennsylvania’s Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative program that started in 1998. She provided three handouts to the participants for more details, PA Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative 2009 Plan of Work, the PA Grazing/Forage Lands Conservation Coalition Activities, January 2011, and the PA GLCI Directory of Members, December 1, 2010. GLCI in PA was expanded to include all forage lands to include hay and haylage acreage.
The PA GLCI has a website. They have produced videos: Converting to a Grass Based Dairy, New Frontiers - Grazing Beef in the 21st Century, and Equine Pasture Management. Currently, they working on a DVD for small ruminant grazing management. They also have plans to update the dairy and beef videos. Grazing schools are being put together that are producer oriented, regional in scope, and done on a quarterly basis each year.
The PA Grazing and Forage Lands Conservation Coalition is comprised of producer representatives from major farmer groups in PA that have an interest in grazing. Voting board members are from the PA Cattleman’s Association, PA Sheep & Wool Growers, PA Forage & Grassland Council, PA Farm Bureau, PA RC&D Councils, PA State Grange, PA Association of Conservation Districts, PA Livestock Association, PA Association of Sustainable Agriculture, PA Dairy Stakeholders, PA Equine Industry, and 2 at-large members that represent other segments of PA agriculture. Technical advisors include members from Penn State University, Delaware Valley College, USDA-ARS, USDA-NRCS, Center for Beef Excellence, Center for Dairy Excellence, PA Department of Agriculture, and the PA Game Commission.
The PA GLCI meets quarterly with one meeting a year at an educational location, such as at an innovative grazing-based farm or at a research facility, university, or college. They do a business plan or plan of work to guide their operations and secure available grant funding wherever that might be. They have hosted the National GLCI Steering Committee meetings in PA. They serve as a subcommittee for grazing lands on the State Technical Committee of USDA-NRCS. In this latter capacity, they provide feedback to NRCS on grazing technical assistance efficacy. They sponsor producer speakers attending the National GLCI Grazing Conferences. They co-sponsor the Annual Grassland Evaluation Contest with the Penn’s Corner RC&D Council and fund the scholarship awarded at the contest. They partner with the 5 regional Project Grass groups to promote proper grazing management. They promote grazing at several agricultural showcase events around the State, such as at Farm Progress Days. Their membership also mentor and advise beginning grazing farmers.
Tom Akin, agronomist and GLCI coordinator, USDA-NRCS in Massachusetts spoke next. He said the Agriculture, Food, and Environment (AFE) Program of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University initiated the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. This was a positive sign in Massachusetts to promote locally produced food. This Project has plans to promote grazing. Towns are asking for assistance on grazing issues, such as stocking densities. There is also the UMASS Crops, Dairy, & Livestock Team as well to partner with.
The problem in MA as it relates to grazing is that there is no organized livestock sector and no local Extension staff. There also is no critical mass of MA farmers to garner support for grazing assistance. No support exists from the State Department of Agriculture and Markets for grazing technical assistance.
Hopeful signs, such as the rise in the market place for grass-fed beef, may spur more activity and funds towards grazing technical assistance as more producers come on-line that will have pasture acres. Grass-fed meat commands high prices. For example, grass-fed ground beef sells for ten dollars per pound. Restaurants are willing to pay \$17.00 per pound for better cuts of beef.
USDA-NRCS programs, Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), are the most important funding mechanisms for pastureland work in MA.
As with New Jersey, there is very little time to do follow-up on grazing plan implementation to ensure that proper grazing occurs after funds have been spent to install grazing land practices.
Jennifer Colby, technical coordinator/outreach coordinator, UVM Vermont Pasture Network, presented grazing land technical assistance activities in Vermont next. The Vermont Pasture Network started in 1996. It was begun by the Vermont Grass Farmers Association (VGFA), Vermont GLCI, and UVM Extension Sustainable Agriculture Program. With Dr. Bill Murphy retirement from UVM, a noted grazing researcher and author, VGFA members want to keep pasture work continuing so this was the impetus for the Vermont Grazing Network. GLCI money from NRCS helps fund the Network but the money is dwindling. Other money is sought from donations, grants, contracts, and EPA 319 funds. The Network does farm demonstrations of grazing practices, pasture walks, an annual grazing conference, and produces a Pasture Calendar newsletter 8 times a year. The Network has 300 members. Over 160 are on Facebook.
Technical assistance provided by the Network has slowed from over 50 farms per year to between 20-25 annually now as funding support has dwindled. The Network is open to all livestock type farmers. With less professional technical support, there has been increased farmer to farmer grazing assistance. Partners of the Network, such as the Vermont Beef Producers Association and the Vermont Goat Association, share their expertise with graziers asking for advice. Comprehensive grazing training is needed. Possibly this could be done using a rural broadband internet to broadcast it out to farms.
There is a need to strengthen partnership and develop a farmer support network in a more formal way to ensure that farmers that need and want help, get the assistance they need. This will enhance farm longevity and promote diversity in agriculture both in enterprise type and those entering agriculture.