NEERA1003: Northeast Pasture Consortium
Statement of Issues and JustificationThe 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 technology transfer.
The current "official" Consortium membership is 239 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.
--Explore new alternatives for transfer of knowledge and information to increase adoption of research findings within the agriculture community such as mentoring, case studies and creative use of technology in promotional materials.
--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, sequester 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 objective 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, and economists must work together to study individual components and various interactions of these components in plant-animal farming systems and their products 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 serve 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://www.umaine.edu/grazingguide/; facilitated new collaborations and partnerships among Consortium members -
(1) 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,
(2) the 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,
(3) the NHAES Organic Dairy Research Farm at Lee, NH,
(4) the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture's Pasture Program, and
(5) the Pasture Based Beef Systems for Appalachia research effort by ARS-Beaver, WVU, VA Tech, and UGA;
(6)and a 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 Coshocton, 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 membership or are in the proposal stage. Climate change will be addressed in a planned session at 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. Bioenergy research continues on with several forage species.
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