Grasslands Face Troubling Times

How to Restore Their Perceived Value

By Cheryl Cesario, UVM Grazing Specialist

Scott Bauer / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, via Wikimedia Commons

A recent study published in the scientific journal, ‘Nature’, examined the importance of species diversity in grassland ecosystems. The German-based study included dozens of researchers collecting data along various levels of the grassland food chain. The data was collected on a total of 4600 species, the most extensive ecological sampling in Europe to date. These species, they found, interact and rely on each other to provide critical grassland ‘ecosystem services’, such as food production, soil development, carbon storage, and flood and drought mitigation, among other climate regulatory functions. The study emphasizes the importance of maintaining biodiversity across all levels of the grassland food chain, which provide synergistic effects that ultimately benefit the planet and humanity as a whole.

So if grasslands play such a critical role in our planet’s health, why are they disappearing at an alarming rate? The same month the ‘Nature’ study was published, the Union of Concerned Scientists published an article about the continued reduction of grassland acres across the U.S. From 2008-2012, extensive acreage was cultivated for the first time, mostly planted to annual crops. This phenomenon was greatest in the Great Plains and western Corn Belt, where 77% of new cropland was borne from grasslands. Several crops took their place, led by corn, wheat and soybeans. These grasslands are being traded for crops that require irrigation in areas where irrigation and drinking water supplies are shrinking.

Contrast this with the ‘Nature’ study regarding the importance of grassland biodiversity and the role these ecosystems play in climate adaptation. The regions of the country with the highest loss of grasslands are also the same ones where flooding frequency has increased the most. This doesn’t seem like the best strategy for building resiliency.

There are USDA programs designed to encourage and protect grasslands, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, such as native grasses, wildlife plantings, filter strips, or riparian buffers. Farmers receive an annual rental payment for the term of the multi-year contract. However, enrollment peaked at 36.8 million acres in 2007, dropping to 24.2 million acres by September 2015. States such as Kansas, North Dakota, Montana and Texas have seen reductions of over 1 million acres each in CRP land over the past 8 years. For scale comparison, in Vermont our CRP acres total approximately 2,800 acres, mostly in various riparian buffer, filter strip, and habitat plantings. While we don’t have large swaths of native grasslands here in Vermont, we do import large amounts of grain from the Midwest to feed cattle and other livestock, so ultimately we are part of the grassland-biodiversity-climate adaptation issue.

When commodity prices are high, acres that transition out of the program are often not re-enrolled. The trend may continue: between 2020 and 2022, 11.6 million CRP acres are scheduled to expire nationwide and it remains to be seen what the future holds for those grassland acres. With more and more discussion and interest in adaptive, resilient and regenerative agriculture, one would hope that more policies and programs may be on the horizon to encourage biodiverse grassland ecosystems that provide so many benefits.

To read more:

Basche, Andrea. “Why the Loss of Grassland is a Troubling Trend for Agriculture, in 11 Maps and Graphs.” Union of Concerned Scientists [Blog]. August 10, 2016.

Schuessler, Ryan. “The enormous threat to America’s last grasslands.” The Washington Post: Energy and the Environment. June 16, 2016.

Do you have questions about grazing management? Contact Cheryl Cesario [802-388-4969 ext. 346 or cheryl.cesario@uvm.edu]

Conservation Work Highlighted

“These changes have resulted in the reduction of soil and nutrient runoff from more than 27,763 acres of cropland and livestock production facilities. When including practices implemented since 2011, that number grows to an impressive 86,382 acres.”  140 Farms Reduced Their Nutrient Runoff – just in the past year.  How Did They Do It?

  • Nutrient Management Plans: 12,311 acres
  • Manure Management: 2,255 acres
  • Conservation Mulch Tillage: 1,547 Acres
  • Cover Crops: 8,590 Acres
  • No-Till Planting: 3,060 Acres

Read more in the latest Extension Quarterly Newsletter:

Quarterly

 

2016 No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium

Our 3rd Annual No-Till & Cover Crops Symposium:

Our symposium has come and gone but you can find information about it below, including proceedings, links and presentations.

See you next February! Thank you to all our speakers and participants for a great symposium!

Please respect primary authorship of presentations and research.

NTCC2016

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Check out our proceedings, full of useful information from our speakers.

–> NTCC Proceedings_2016

 Guest Speakers:

  • John Kemmeren, a NY dairymen with 40 years of no-till experience on his 200 head dairy farm. He will share successes and challenges of no-till and cover cropping.
  • Dr. Kevin Bradley, associate professor and extension weed scientist at the University of Missouri. He will share his perspectives on how cover crops, herbicides, and good weed control can work in a no-till system.

More information about Dr. Bradley’s research can be found at:  http://plantsci.missouri.edu/faculty/bradley.cfm  and   http://weedscience.missouri.edu/

  • Odette Menard, a soil conservation honoree and employee in Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture will share her insight into helping farmers identify strategies to build soil health, increase yields, improve economics, and reduce erosion.

Other speakers and facilitators from UVM Extension:

As with previous years, we will also have a great panel discussion:
* Mark Anderson, Land View Farms * Kevin Kocsak, Salem Farm Supply *Larry Gervais, Gervais Family Farm * Brad Thomas, Jillian Holsteins *

The UVM Extension’s Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team & the Northwest Crops & Soils Program invited all farmers and technical advisers to attend this event dedicated to No-Till and Cover Cropping systems for field crop growers in our area.

NTCC2016B

Thank You to Our Sponsors!!!

Platinum Sponsor:

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Gold Sponsors:

Caring Dairy

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Silver Sponsors:

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Bronze Sponsors:

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Thank You to Our Other Supporting Organizations:

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                                   Conservation Innovation Grant

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UVM EXT

2015 No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium

Thursday, February 19, 2015

brochure thumbnail

Sheraton Hotel & Conference Center   |   Burlington, VT

Miss the Symposium? You can still learn about the information presented:

2015 NTCC Proceedings

THE CONFERENCE BROCHURE

Check out this awesome Across the Fence Video, that was shot at the symposium, and in the studio with Kirsten Workman and Jeff Sanders.

To view PDFs of the individual presentations, click on the links below.

Speakers Included:

  • John Koepke and his family own and operate a 350 cow dairy farm in SE Wisconsin. They are 2011 Leopold Conservation Award Winners and 2011 Dairy Men of the Year and have been no-tillers for more than 25 years: John Koepke’s Presentation
  • Gerard Troisi is crop advisor/production consultant since 1991, consulting on 24,000 acres in central PA.  He works with operators who no-till or are transitioning, and is skilled at increasing production on marginal soils while reducing input costs and adjusting production practices: Gerard Troisi’s Presentation
  • Lucas Criswell and his father farm in the hills of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in central Pennsylvania. They have been no tilling for over 30 years and now utilize high residue cover crops: Lucas Criswell’s Presentation
  • Pierre-Olivier Gaucher is the owner of Terralis & convened a consortium of Canadian farmers who are changing their cropping techniques to improve soil health.  They developed a crop rotation to include cover crops, winter cereals and interseeding in corn: Pierre-Olivier Gaucher’s Presentation, Pierre-OLivier Gaucher’s Video
  • Heather Darby, UVM Extension Agronomist: Heather Darby’s Presentation
  • Kirsten Workman, UVM Extension: Kirsten Workman’s Presentation
  • VERMONT FARMER PANELISTS:
    • Richard Hall, Fairmont Farms (E. Montpelier): Richard Hall’s Presentation
    • Ron & Chad Machia,  Machia & Sons (Sheldon)
    • Shawn Gingue, Gingue Bros. Dairy (Fairfax)
    • Scott Magnan, Custom Service (St. Albans)
    • Gerard Vorsteveld, Vorsteveld Farm (Panton)
 (Please respect the pdfs as original content).

 Thank you to our 2015 Sponsors:

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champlain.crops@uvm.edu | (802) 388-4969

2014 No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium

First Ever UVM Extension

No-Till & Cover Crop

Symposium

February 19 & 20, 2014

Sheraton Hotel & Conference Center   |   Burlington, VT

Click HERE for the complete conference brochure and agenda!

Did you miss the symposium…here is some of the information that was presented during the two-day conference.

The UVM Extension Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team and the Northwest Crops & Soils Program were joined by farmers and technical advisers at the first conference in New England dedicated to No-Till and Cover Cropping systems for field crop growers in our area.  We welcomed speakers from around the country and from Vermont – including Extension specialists and researchers, farmers and consultants.

Conference Proceedings

Click the picture below for the PDF version of the conference proceedings.

NTCC Proceedings_Cover ThumbnailVideos:

Frank Gibbs NRCS Resource Soil Scientist sharing from a root pit

The ‘smoke test’ results from Frank Gibbs’ experiment on continuous no-till soils.

Aerial Seeding Cover Crops into Corn (Richmond, VT) – 2013

Loading Cover Crop Seed into the Helicopter – 2013

Earth Worms Working in the  Field (filmed  by Jean-Marie Harvey, Soil Conservationist, Quebec Ministry of Agriculture)

Presentations:

DAY ONE (Feb. 19)

Reduced Tillage Success – presented by Rico Balzano

No-Till Considerations – presented by Jeff Sanders

No-till and Cover Crops on a Pennsylvania Dairy Farm – presented by Jim Harbach and Gerard Troisi

Keeping Your Phosphorus Where it Belongs in No-Till Fields – presented by Frank Gibbs

Precision Agriculture for Conservation Tillage Success – presented by Guy Palardy

DAY TWO (Feb. 20)

Cover Crops No-Till and Diversity – presented by Jeff Carter

Earthworms – The Key to Quality No Till Soils_- presented by Frank Gibbs

Cover Crop Mixes After Corn Silage – presented by Sjoerd Duiker

Cover Crops at North Island Dairy – presented  by Andre Quintin

Cover Crops for No-Till Systems on a Pennsylvania Dairy Farm – presented by Jim Harbach

Double Cropping with Cover Crops – Winter Rye Forage at Deer Valley Farm

Aerial Seeding Cover Crops in Vermont – presented by Kirsten Workman

 THANK YOU TO OUR 2014 SPONSORS

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2014 Sponsor and Exhibitor Form

Click HERE for the complete conference brochure and agenda!