Diversified crop and livestock systems offer some of the best options for getting more continuous living cover on the landscape. Incorporation of forage crops and well-managed pasture into crop rotations is key to achieving economic and environmental outcomes. In recent decades, specialization has been a dominant trend in the upper Midwest. Now that is changing, and there is increasing interest in re-integrating livestock into annual cropping systems.
The Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group or MPFWG, a team hosted by the Green Lands Blue Waters, and partners were recently awarded a SARE Research & Education grant for a new project – Match Made in Heaven: Livestock + Crops.
“The three-year project will create opportunities for farmers to share their interests, challenges, and needs, and allow the crop and livestock organizations that they engage with to adapt their programming to meet current and future interests and needs,” said Laura Paine, Grassland 2.0 outreach coordinator and co-chair of the MPFWG.
New and existing project partners hope to survey 10,000 producers in six Midwestern states about the opportunities and barriers related to integration of livestock and crop production. “Our goal is to crowd-source the best ideas for capturing the environmental, economic, and social benefits of diverse crop rotations and integrated systems,” said Paine.
Project activities will be guided by a working advisory team of representatives of Grassland 2.0, mainstream crop and livestock organizations, sustainable agriculture-focused organizations, and organizations that work with underserved farmers across the six states involved: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. This team will meet online regularly throughout the project and will be tasked with guiding the development, advertising, and distribution of survey instruments to collect input from farmers. The grant will provide per-meeting honoraria to farmer-members of the advisory team and to representatives of up to 20 organizations to support their participation.
The grant will fund a complementary activity to explore the economics of re-integrating crops and livestock production. Project team members will develop in-depth financial case studies of up to 8 farmers practicing crop and livestock integration across the Midwest. One specific output will be an integrated crop and livestock enterprise budget tool suitable for use by farmers pursuing integrated practices.
“The project will be kicking off in January 2022. We welcome the participation of individual farmers and farmer organizations throughout the region,” said Paine. To engage or for more information, contact Laura Paine or Jane Jewett, coordinator of the MPFWG.