Can grazing cut costs in challenged economy?

Gloria Hafemeister
Grazing is viewed by some as a way to cut costs of production and is being encouraged by the UW-Madison’s Grassland 2.0 project.

PORTAGE – As farmers continue to face challenges due to record low pay prices and markets for milk and meat, producers are also seeking ways to cut the costs of production.

“We need to get back to a dominant system that improves the sustainability of agriculture,” said Randy Jackson, head of the Grassland 2.0 project at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Speaking at a grazing conference in Portage this spring, Jackson said “Everything is linked to how we take care of the land. This project is about restoring the function of the prairie to agriculture.”

He points to research indicating that the costs of production are lower with grazing systems.

“Right now the power of agriculture is in the hands of processors and suppliers," he said. "We need to get that power back into the hands of farmers.”

Jackson suggests that a good way to introduce confinement farmers to grazing is through grazing heifers. Many large producers whose cows are in confinement housing have already discovered that heifers that are grazed are healthy and less costly to raise.

Grassland 2.0 is a collaborative project involving producers, researchers, policy makers and supply chain players working together to create a pathway toward a regenerative food and farming system that delivers stable profits for farmers, rural community vitality and protection of the ecosystem, according to Jackson.

He blames recent trends in agriculture for volatile prices and profits, an increased dependence on exports, environmental degradation and rural community decline.

Jackson says the goal of this project is to find ways that farmers are able to earn a living and provide consumers with a consistent, diverse and local supply of grass-fed dairy and beef products. He also believes that with this system will lend itself to improvements to the ecosystem and waterways as well as a more stable climate.

The goal of Grassland 2.0 is to engage farmers and rural residents and to help interested communities establish “Learning Hubs” in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states. 

The project is housed at UW-Madison with the work is supported by the Sustainable Agriculture Systems Coordinated Agricultural Program grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.