2013 Northeast Pasture Consortium Annual Meeting Northeast Pasture Research and Extension Consortium 2016 Annual Meeting, Manchester, NH, February 6-7, 2013

Jennifer Colby, University of Vermont
Developing Economic and Energy Tools to Aid Farmer Decision-Making

Jennifer Colby presented Developing Economic and Energy Tools to Aid Farmer Decision-Making. Economics and Energy: A Lens - the typical questions posed by a farmer making an investment that is good for the farm, the environment, and reduces dependency on fossil fuel energy.

  • What’s the cost?
  • What’s my return on investment?
  • Am I improving the environment?
  • Am I saving energy?
  • What’s the VALUE?

The US-wide Conservation Innovation Grant category — Energy savings through holistic planned grazing and management that the University of Vermont received funding from will be addressed using:

  • 2012-2013 Data sources from existing business plans, VT organic dairy study, current SARE holistic planned grazing grant, plus qualitative data collected through farmer energy audits and interviews.
  • Holistic planned grazing compared against other grazing management approaches.

This will lead to:

  • By Fall 2013, develop a tool to identify the economic and energy impacts of different choices:
    • Graze versus bale feed
    • Soil/forage improvements
    • Equipment usage choices - livestock, or tractor, mower, tedder, and baler.
  • In 2014, test and refine tool, evaluate farmer usage and improve tool.

A Vermont specific Conservation Innovation Grant project is Using Grass-Based Livestock Farms to Demonstrate Regenerative Agriculture. This project will start in 2013 and run 3 years. Its goals are:

  • Design & implement soil improvements on two farms.
  • Monitor/document the soil quality, forage productivity, economics, and landscape-level energy.
  • Share the case studies via on-farm workshops, web, fact sheets, etc.

Existing projects are training livestock to eat non-toxic weeds so that weeds become a forage resource rather than an eradication expense, addressing pasture soil compaction by breaking it up with key-line plowing or growing forage radish, and looking at the carbon sequestration capability of pastures.

Jennifer extended an invitation to farmer members of the Consortium to participate in the Conservation Innovation Grant project by volunteering to have energy audits and interviews done at their farm. Agronomic researchers are seeking additional perspectives to augment their research findings.