by Troy Bishopp
LATHAM, NY — Conservation, quality soils, cool season pastures and human health are uniquely intertwined in the northeast pasture belt for the benefit of all. The Northeast Pasture Consortium continues to advocate for these coveted grasslands and grazing’s importance with an alliance of graziers, extension educators and research professionals. Is pasture relevant? “Unequivocally yes,” said Consortium Chairman, James Cropper.
Since its inception in 1996, the NE Pasture Consortium has driven collaborative research among land grant universities, USDA-Agriculture Research Service (ARS), and nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) and the private sector. This year’s meeting of private and public sector stakeholders centered on learning more about riparian area management, soil and pasture health, silvo-pasture, economic viability, the dietary fat controversy and farm practices.
Erik Hagan, Riparian Conservation Planning Project Coordinator at USDA-ARS and graduate student in ecology at Penn State University and Michael Nassry, Assistant Research Professor at Penn State University along with beef farmer, Morgan Hartman, took on the dicey subject of grazing near streams. It culminates a 4-year research effort to address the issue of pasturing land along streams without damaging water quality and the stream banks.
“It’s been difficult to have a set program, given all the perspectives. Currently, regulations and policy are disengaged from reality,” said Hagan. “It’s entirely based on a site explicit context given the landscape and management of these areas. What we know is the precise placement of riparian buffers are paramount to intercepting concentrated flows and sediment. It’s fairly obvious that the field side of the buffer needs quality management of land cover for the whole ecosystem to function well.” You can read a full report at
Morgan Hartman said he has over a mile of fenced out streams transecting his pasture system. “I believe we need flexibility with conservation program dollars that address riparian concerns. These programs need to be more holistic,” he said. “It’s all about time and timing. When I graze riparian areas, usually in August with low water levels, with cattle for a specific goal (invasive plants), I’ve found it actually improves trout populations and enhances the habitat component. It’s a very planned and targeted approach to bolster ecosystem processes. Using livestock as landscape architects is the broadest way to help the environment. It’s all about balance.”
Pasture soil health and its impact on human health were heralded by USDA-NRCS Soil Health Specialist, Justin Morris and Didi Pershouse, founder of the Center for Sustainable Medicine and Soil Carbon Coalition President. “We can draw many of the solutions for taking care of our inner landscape and growing healthy people from seeing how sustainable agriculture takes care of the outer landscape to grow healthy food,” said Pershouse.
“Healthy topsoil is the mucosal membrane of the land,” she continued. “This understanding of covering the soil with green plants and not leaving it bare reduces runoff and drought while realizing that bacterial and fungal organisms can be beneficial. It made me appreciate the role that mammals, birds and insect life play in the ecosystem. Once I understood the importance of soils in community resilience and climate resilience, I basically made a decision to shift my energy to public health through soil health.”
The meeting focused once again on the Saturated versus Unsaturated Dietary Fat from pastured products controversy with Glen Lawrence, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Long Island University and Adam Lock, Associate Professor of Dairy Cattle Nutrition at Michigan State University. The overarching message was to praise the overall health benefits of milk and meat in the human diet instead of saying my product is better than your product, especially when it comes to milkfat. “The pendulum is starting to swing from the idea that milk fat is a negative to the idea that it is beneficial.”
The body of stakeholders decided to continue future work in quantifying economics for ecosystem services, soil health and the viability of grazing enterprises, studying parasite issues in small ruminants, evaluating northeast plant varieties and animal genetics, continued research in pasture-based meats and milk for human nutrition and transferring knowledge to farmers who implement grazing management.
To learn more about the Northeast Pasture Consortium’s work and research priorities visit: