MORRISVILLE, NY — Aldo Leopold once said, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” This sentiment was an overarching theme at the three-day Grasstravaganza 2014 event that brought 150 farmers, ag educators and conservation professionals together to peer deeply into soil health, pasture productivity and creating wealth by nurturing the land.
The enthusiastic event held at Morrisville State College featured a once in a lifetime trio of soil, pasture and biological “evangelists” that brought practical and visual learning to a whole new level.
Headliners, Ray “the soils guy” Archuleta from the NRCS East National Technology Center and leader of the USDA-NRCS National Soil Health Initiative along with Jim “management-intensive” Gerrish who provides independent, world-wide grazing lands consultation, grazes 400 cow-calf pairs and authors two books from his home base in May, Idaho and Jerry “food as medicine” Brunetti, international lecturer from Agri-Dynamics who use holistic approaches to create healthy land, animals and people all teamed up to inspire an active crowd.
Thursday night’s program (and throughout the conference) kicked off with culinary delights from local farms and businesses, sourced, prepared and served by an outstanding team consisting of Diana Johnson, Sarah Mazza, Dianna Featherly, Becca Dowsland, Justin Strong, Christian Martin, Anne Orth and Amanda Taranto from the Dining Services at the Morrisville Auxiliary Corporation. After a greeting from Dr. Chris Nyberg, Dean of the School of Agriculture, Sustainability, Business and Entrepreneurship, Jim Gerrish took the guests on a slide show highlighting some interesting facts and what grazing looks like around the world from his experience. The stories provided plenty of context in how farmers and ranchers manage their lands.
Friday morning, Ray Archuleta brought passion and conviction in addressing the crowd about improving the soil with future generations in mind. “I’m 53 years old and never thought I would be part of a dust bowl again. We must learn to love and understand the land and not treat it like a chemistry set. My job is advocating for capturing every raindrop. We don’t have a runoff problem, we have an infiltration problem. Our soil is naked, hungry, thirsty and running a fever. We’ve got to learn to cover the soil 24/7 and get away from reactive conservation,” said the conservation agronomist.
Universally known for his videos on soil health and cover crops, he didn’t disappoint the audience as he performed slake tests, demonstrated rainfall simulations and techniques to measure soil structure and see the “soil glues” in action. This provocative presentation brought about many ah-ha moments and cemented the importance of farming with the underground livestock in mind. “The greatest roadblock in soil health is the human mind,” he said.
The Morrisville State College Dairy Complex’s crop and pasture fields were host to soil health stations where Ray showed the benefits of cover crop mixtures planted specifically for the event with support from King’s Agri-Seeds and the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Big Flats, NY. He taught farmers to evaluate a soil health test, count earthworms, look at the soil surface and took a variety of specific questions.
Jim Gerrish used the heifer pasture to demonstrate grazing regimes to achieve diversity, led farmers on how cows graze by having them take 10 bites with their hands and measured the leaves on a grass plant to know when to initiate grazing a paddock. “Cows graze intensively, people should manage intensively,” said the grass guru. He also teamed up the Cornell’s Small Dairy/Organic Dairy Coordinator, Fay Benson to study the effects of inter-seeding Daikon radishes and oats to biologically address compaction issues in a pasture.
On Saturday, a packed house came to hear Jerry Brunetti deliver a poignant look at making ecological connections from “microbes to mankind” and discovering the important links between nutrition and agriculture. He showed participants how to make a resilient soil food web and the opportunities in making the farm, a “farmacy”. Gerrish followed up by initiating a higher level of grazing management from the grass roots up as he discussed the nuances of measuring leaf area index, grazing strategies, figuring stock densities and evaluating cattle types right for grazing.
The day ended with capacity crowds of bus tours to Morrisville State College’s Equine facility managed by Mike Mazza, a grazing dairy tour at Bruce Rivington’s Farm and home to Kriemhild grass-fed butter in Hamilton, NY and a multi-species livestock pasture romp hosted by the Daniel Kline Family of Ingallside Meadows Farm in Canastota, NY. Each trip was facilitated by Ray, Jim or Jerry and a team member from the Grasstravaganza’s organizing committee.
Reviews for the event ranged from life-changing to inspirational. Erica Frenay from Shelterbelt Farm in Caroline, NY, said, “I came home full of inspiration and with an even longer to-do list than I had before… so many ideas of ways we can improve our farm by focusing on the “lords of the underworld” — aka our underground livestock.”
UVM Pasture Coordinator and shepherd, Jenn Colby from Randolph, VT, said, “If I ever wavered my belief that grass farming has the capacity to save the world, these fellows sure reaffirmed that belief, and gave me new ways to communicate the reasons why. This weekend has been a highlight of my career and my life as a farmer.”
The Pasture Soil Health Creates Wealth event was made possible by funding and partnerships between The New York Natural Resources Conservation Service, Morrisville State College & Morrisville Auxiliary Corporation and the NY Grazing Lands Coalition. Sponsors and planning committee members comprised of Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Kings Agriseeds, Adirondack Grazers Cooperative, DairyOne Agronomy Services, Horizon Organic, Agri-Dynamics, Nelson Farms, Assemblyman Bill Magee, Organic Valley, Tioga, Chenango and Madison County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, NESARE and 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.