NEERA1003: Northeast Pasture Consortium
Since its inception in 1996, the NE Pasture Consortium has driven collaborative research among land grant universities, USDA-Agriculture Research Service (ARS), and nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s).
At the groundbreaking workshop in March 1998, over 110 livestock producers, scientists, educators, and agribusiness suppliers from 12 NE states came together and developed a paradigm that focuses on prioritizing short- and long-term research needs, finding properly trained researchers to work on practical solutions for these needs, and extending these solutions to farmers.
Over the years, the group has offered many services to farmers around the world, including On Pasture, a web-based news information site where grazing management techniques and ideas are exchanged, and a series of detailed handbooks that are used by farmers as self-help guides covering the ins and outs of pasture management.
University Extension professionals and conservation agencies like the USDA-NRCS have hosted conferences and field days and distributed fact sheets. As a result, farmers are incorporating research results and insights into pasture-based farming practices that protect both their financial bottom lines and the environment.
The Consortium’s work is becoming more valuable as shrinking federal and state budgets make it necessary to address unresolved issues in pasture-based agriculture with limited staff and resources. By enabling efficient, synergistic relationships among researchers, farmers, and action agencies, the Consortium provides timely, science-based solutions in an unbiased manner.
Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group
Duration: October 2011 to September 30, 2016 (Established in 1996; renewed at 5-year intervals.)
Administrative Advisor(s): Margaret E. Smith, Cornell University
NIFA Rep: Jim Dobrowolski, National Program Leader for Rangeland and Grassland Ecosystems
In 1994, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee stated in Senate Report 103-290, page 24, that “The Committee expects the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to develop a Northeast Pasture Research Consortium involving the ARS facility in State College, Pennsylvania, non-profit research institutions, and land grant colleges in the Northeast. This Consortium should promote applied pasture research, link existing resources, and foster continued state/federal and public/private partnerships for research in this area.” In response to this directive, follow-up steps were taken to plan and implement the “Northeast Pasture Research and Extension Consortium” and what is now called the “Northeast Pasture Consortium.”
Issues and Justification:
The need, as indicated by stakeholders. 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; and representatives from 12 land-grant universities (LGUs) in the Northeast Region and Ohio, USDA-ARS locations in Maine, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, 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 techno-logy transfer.
The current “official” Consortium membership is 250 with approximately 40 percent from the private-sector. Attendance at our annual meetings, 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 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 into partnerships 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 enterprises across the region.
The following are pasture priority needs identified by Consortium stakeholders and updated at the 2010 annual meeting (farmers, agribusiness suppliers, and NGOs):
- Determine the management strategies and costs of transition or conversion from row crops to productive and sustainable grazing lands and soils and their ability to sequester carbon and reduce fossil fuel inputs. Create tools and outreach materials to facilitate expanded adoption and knowledge transfer.
- Quantify the economics of whole-farm systems including the effects of breed selection, livestock diversification, and grazing management on animal and pasture health to promote safe, healthy, and secure local community food systems.
- Evaluate and promote forage species and improved varieties under grazing management and changing climatic and soil conditions with emphasis on extending the grazing season to reduce fossil fuel inputs and sequester additional carbon.
- Determine the environmental impacts and profitability of alternative supplemental feeding strategies for animals on high-protein pastures.
- Evaluate the production and management aspects of pasture-based animal products for the effects on nutrition and health of both children and adults and their role in creating a safe, healthy food system.
- Identify and address the limiting factors and marketing opportunities in dairy and livestock pasture-based production systems.
- Provide funding for case studies by knowledgeable personnel to establish the cause and effect of pasture management showing positive and negative effect to children’s health, local food supply, safety, energy usage, carbon footprint, and farm profitability.
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, seques-ter 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 objec-tive 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, hydrologists, and economists must work together to study individual components and various interactions of these components in plant-animal farming systems and the products produced by these pasture-based systems 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. 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 the 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 and often less than a full time equivalent devoted to the identified stakeholder priorities. Penn State and the University of Vermont have not replaced two full-time LGU pasture researchers in the Northeast Region who 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 responsibility for pasture systems and water quality research, needs LGU researchers to collaborate with in the Northeast Region.
The University of New Hampshire has initiated 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, VT, and PA rank 5th, 6th, and 7th in organic milk production in the US, 2008 OPS NASIS data). 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. However, 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 two 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 eight for grazing research and education in the Northeast Region that serves 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 Northeast Grazing Guide website http://grazingguide.net/;
- facilitated new collaborations and partnerships among Consortium
- 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,
- 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,
- NHAES Organic Dairy Research Farm at Lee, NH,
- UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Pasture Program,
- Pasture Based Beef Systems for Appalachia research effort by ARS-Beaver, WVU, VA Tech, and UGA;
- 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 Coshoc-ton, OH. With vigilance and diligence, the Stakeholder Committee has kept ARS pasture research facilities open in the Northeast Region and collaborative pasture research has blossomed. This effort must always be on-going as the competition for research dollars and personnel heighten nationally as new research priorities emerge.
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 member-ship or are in the proposal stage. Climate change was addressed at a session of our 2011 Annual Meeting. Current research efforts in studying pasture soil carbon sequestration also address the issue of climate change. 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. New proposals 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 remains a topic of interest among the membership and was again discussed at the 2011 annual meeting to promote research to answer questions on its safety and healthfulness. 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 Northeast Grazing Guide, in order to disseminate pertinent pasture-based technology to users.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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, accommoda-tions, and agenda.
- The Executive Director provides latest Consortium updates to Northeast Grazing Guide webmaster. 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.
- 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.
- Letters of support are sent to the appropriate officials for research grant proposals and legislative initiatives that address Consortium objectives and priority needs.
- 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.
- 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 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:
- Decision-support software, the ARS Integrated Farm Systems Model, is developed and released that can model a full range of pasture-based production systems. It is planned to make this available for use by resource providers, such as NRCS grazing specialists, extension educators, and private consultants, to help pasture-based farmers make appropriate farm management decisions that in-crease their profitability.
- 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. Increased viewership 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.
- Exchange of ideas and experiences between pasture-based farmers and the public-sector agencies is ongoing. 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.
- Provide needed pasture-based technical assistance to all pasture-based farming areas of the North-east 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.
- Continued and expanded research into riparian area pastures impact on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment delivery to streams especially as it relates to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Increase the accuracy of the Chesapeake Bay Model in showing the impacts pasture best management practices have in reducing loadings of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment to Bay waters.
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 Steward-ship Program, administered by NRCS, provides funding to apply or enhance upon these new technologies.
Extension educators at the land grant university campuses and county offices provide assistance to pasture-based producers by providing educational opportunities in the form of pasture walks, seminars, workshops, conferences, printed and electronic publications, and web sites devoted to pasture-based agriculture. They often partner with various producer groups, such as the Northeast Organic Farmers Association and its state affiliates, pasture producer associations, and state-wide Forage and Grassland Councils in the development of these educational opportunities and materials.
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 fifteen years that they support the need for continued research. However, they want the results in a timely manner and packaged for both beginning and experienced graziers. The Consortium objectives also include the teaching of undergraduate and graduate students and development of curricula on pasture-based systems at key institutions across the Region.
Consortium annual meetings bring together a diverse group of pasture-based farmers, researchers, private and public technical providers, educators, 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 led 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 as 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 is important to the success of the partnership. The Executive Committee handles the business of the Consortium between annual meetings and provides the continuity needed from year to year. Two members of the Executive Committee, one from the private sector and one from the public sector, are elected by the membership during the business meeting at each Annual Meeting. In addition to the 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 of NEPC, and an Agriculture Research Service employee from the Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research Unit at University Park, PA.