To identify and implement ecologically sound grazing practices, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program has announced a $1 million Research and Education Grant, the largest awarded since the program launched.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology, the project lead, selected a systems research approach to identify practical and regionally appropriate methods of regenerative grazing that can be implemented across the southeast. Systems research analyzes the problem as a whole by focusing on a broad array of factors rather than on a few isolated variables.

By including the social, economic, political, physical, and biological components of regenerative grazing, the team can identify more effective water management strategies, better ways to sequester carbon, and the best methods for improving soil health through regenerative grazing practices.

“We want to promote and encourage greater understanding of regenerative grazing and soil health as part of a vibrant, just value chain, specifically promoting environmental and conservation benefits of soil health practices and grazing principles that enhance participation and relationships for peer-to-peer learning and mentoring,” said Eric Bendfeldt, a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist and associate director of the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation at Virginia Tech. 

The grant will utilize the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ and Virginia Cooperative Extension’s vast resources to bring the information to the people of the commonwealth. As the project moves forward, the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences; the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation; and the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education will assist.

Extension will work as a state-based hub to encourage peer-to-peer learning, system connections, and the cross-pollination of soil health for water ideas across groups such as Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, Graze 300 Virginia, the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition. 

Funded through the Southern SARE program, an interdisciplinary team of six universities, three nongovernmental agencies, and eight farmer cooperators hope to take an already successful grant project from Texas and expand it into Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia. Over the past five years, this project found success in Texas by creating new tools and building a network of ranches to conduct on-farm research. The results of this project have been shared across Texas and successfully implemented in New Mexico, Colorado, and California. 

A critical component of the project will be accelerating the adoption of these methods in the southeast.

Set to be completed in 2024, this grant will launch a multistate network of landowners conducting on-farm trials. Through this peer-to-peer network, participants will be able to share their ideas, failures, and successes in regenerative grazing.

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