ALFRED, NY — In the midst of a punishing dry spell that has diminished pastures, water bodies and farmer’s spirits, Grasstravaganza 2016 brought a 3-day temporary respite for the mind and even garnered a much needed rain shower. As featured speaker, Fred Provenza, stated, “It’s the hard times that force us to adapt and change”.
Over 100 farmers and conservation partners from around the Northeast gathered at Alfred State College and its extensive 800-acre farm to learn about achieving healthy soils, the benefits of diverse diets for animals and people, and becoming local, ecological doctors. Lectures on animal behavior, soil health, grazing management, grass genetics, silvo-pasturing, conservation buffers and recognizing cow signals along with a trade show and local tours of dairy, beef and multi-species grazing farms gave participants plenty of opportunity for hands-on knowledge and a chance to network.
Headlining the conference, author and recently retired Utah State University professor emeritus, Fred Provenza, took farmers on a 40-year journey of his pioneering work in how behavior link soils, plants, herbivores, and humans together. He wove his extensive research experience and personal stories to form compelling reasons why livestock and land management are an integral part of diversity richness that benefit ecosystems and a flavorful food chain.
His range of emotion and knowledge had farmers laughing and shedding tears in his attempt to “transcend boundaries” of thinking and actions that effect our next generation’s planet and their eating habits. “Rekindling our relationships with livestock and landscapes rather than relying on fences as livestock-sitters should be our goal in producing phytochemical rich foods, he said. Ranching and farming are keys, ecologically and economically.” To learn about Fred’s work and research go to www.Behave.net.
Complementing the big picture visions of Dr. Provenza, was Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional soil-health/grazing specialist, Justin Morris, who invoked action with his grazing primer presentation on the all-too-real precipitation dilemma. “We need to address the dysfunctionality of our water system and support practices that enhance infiltration. Bare ground is our number enemy.”
He demonstrated the soil temperature differences of uncovered (over 100 degrees) and covered fields (74 degrees) at Alfred State College. “It’s no coincidence that the 8,000 pounds per acre of soil flora and fauna in a healthy soil functions the best in the 70s’. Vibrant ecosystem processes depend on this biology to make your farm more resilient against these adverse weather patterns,” said Morris.
Jeremy Engh, who owns and operates Lakota Ranch and runs the all forage/grazing Lakota Bull Test in Remington, VA, tied the messages of the day together in an after-dinner matinee on low-input farming and using grass-fed genetics to increase profitability by knocking out the “props” that mask natural adaptability, select animals that thrive in your environment with low inputs, and move toward maximum use and management of cool- and warm-season forages. “The efficiency of cows and the production of good forage are paramount,” said Engh.
Farmers applied some practicality to the subjects by participating in rotating outdoor stations at the college which focused on dealing with fescue in a pasture, watching the way animals grazed certain plants, the importance of maintaining a buffer next to a stream, using tools to measure soil health and even seeing cows getting milked by a robot. Additionally, there were bus trips to visit Graceland Dairy in West Sparta, Chamberlain Beef Farm in Angelica, Birdsall Dairy in Canaseraga and Willow Creek Farm in Belmont, NY.
New knowledge and relationships were easily forged over the robust meals and spirits of Western New York served by Alfred State College’s dining services. Alfred’s Chair of the Agriculture and Veterinary Technology Department, Dr. Phil Schroeder, said, “Most of the food items were sourced within 20 miles of campus.”
The new ecological clinicians heralded the event: “I felt an appreciation for the health of the underground herd as the foundation of your farm. The visuals of how different soil management affected water penetration/run off were outstanding. Studies in how animals can and will select for their dietary needs was spot on. The idea of ‘Rekindle relationships with the landscape’ really stuck with me,” said Jenny Stroh of Top O’ Hill Farm in Centerville, NY.
Joan Kierstead Walker of Walker Farm in New Braintree, MA, commented, “I learned that in trying weather, like our current drought, you must be much more on guard than usual to manage your animals to not overgraze your land. It was interesting to see the drought as bad as our area and talk to everyone about their strategies with such retarded growth. It brought us all together but to be truthful, I learned most of us are overgrazing and we need to devise new strategies.”
“So many conversations surrounded what is best for soil health and the health of the environment. This is where we need to be, helping those who are willing to manage and learn new ways to do the right thing. It was inspiring,” said Lydia Brinkley, Buffer Coordinator for the Upper Susquehanna Coalition.
For more on soil health and grazing initiatives, contact Karen Hoffman, Resource Conservationist at 607-334-4632 x116 or Dave Roberts, State Grazing Lands Specialist at 315-736-3316 X101.