The grass-fed market is more than just selling beef and milk

farmers in a field with cattle grazing

Story by Carl Wepking, Grassland 2.0 Project Coordinator

Throughout the month of February and March GrassWorks hosted a number of virtual grazing events including a recent webinar led by two members of the Grassland 2.0 team — David LeZaks from Croatan Institute, and Sarah Lloyd from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota. The duo, both of whom work on the Grassland 2.0 supply chain team, led an engaging conversation about the current momentum and challenges facing grassland agriculture. They covered everything from the motivations of consumers and developing grass-based supply and value chains to growing markets around ecosystem services and carbon, and how finance intersects with grass-based agriculture. 

A full recording of the webinar is now available. Don’t have time to watch? Here are a few key highlights:

  • Soil health can be a unifying principle for connecting a number of aspects of consumer preferences. Specifically, flavor, nutrition, and a positive effect on the environment are three key drivers of consumer choices, and soil health is the glue that connects these attributes to each other from a consumer standpoint. While this research was focused on consumer mindset within the organic sector, these principles have direct parallels in the world of grass-fed livestock. After all, when it comes to soil health, you can’t do better than well-managed grazing! 
  • Ecosystem service markets are emerging, and providing a way for farmers to access an additional revenue stream that rewards positive environmental outcomes. Well-managed pastures can have a positive impact far beyond the fencerow. Increasingly markets are being developed to incentivize agricultural practices that provide benefits to the environment and society at large. 
  • While carbon markets are gaining a lot of attention, researchers within the Grassland 2.0 team — Randy Jackson, Gregg Sanford, Matt Ruark, Anna Cates, Ashley Becker, Yichao Rui – and David LeZaks —  have expressed concern and uncertainty regarding our ability to reliably use certain agricultural practices to store carbon in the soil. That said, the one system that this group’s research shows has the most potential to sequester soil carbon among all the agricultural management practices investigated was managed perennial grasslands. 
  • Efforts to reward farmers for improving water quality are growing as well, and have the additional benefit of providing more local and regional benefits, compared to carbon sequestration. Also related to water, perennial grasslands provide the benefit of improved water infiltration and storage — and the ability to better handle extreme weather events (both drought and excess precipitation) compared to cultivated fields. While current markets are not accounting for the added resilience and reduced environmental and infrastructure (i.e. bridges, roads) damage, this is certainly a benefit worthy of additional attention given the increased frequency of extreme weather within a changing climate. Plus, it’s hard to put a price tag on resilience when it comes to keeping people fed during catastrophic events – and perennial managed grasslands can provide this benefit as well. 
  • Investing in sustainability efforts continues to grow.  And in addition to the more traditionally investing mindset of risk and return, the idea of investing with a third principle of impact is increasingly growing. One potential way to capitalize on this trend is through establishment of Regenerative Organic Agricultural Districts (ROADs) which would serve as magnets for regenerative agricultural investment and opportunity. ROADs are a concept currently being developed by the Croatan Institute that would connect the dots between the need for capital to expand regenerative farming operations  and investors who are motivated by projects that go beyond return and also provide a positive impact on the world. 

For more information on growing the grassfed livestock sector, view the full recording below.