Use of contour buffer strips in commodity crop systems in southwestern Wisconsin helps reduce soil loss and traps nutrients on slopes. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
The Agricultural Ecosystems Research Group (AERG) has begun a new long-term project for expanding grass-based agriculture in Wisconsin. Taking a working lands approach involving regional partnerships among communities, industry, researchers and other partners, the project aims at planning and implementation of “grass-sheds”. A grass-shed is a geographic area of perennial grass-based agricultural development. The purpose of a grass-shed is to stimulate production of and demand for perennial grass-based feed (e.g., grass-fed beef and dairy), bioenergy? (e.g., grass pellets for furnaces and boilers), and fiber (e.g., animal bedding) within local and/or regional markets while increasing environmental quality and community benefits at local levels and beyond.
“Farmers and others produce perennial grasses? across Wisconsin for a variety of purposes including pasture, haying, bioenergy production, fish and wildlife conservation, and soil and water protection,” says Carol Williams, AERG co-coordinator, research scientist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and originator of the grass-shed concept. “However, as demand for grass-based materials increases over time there may be potential trade-offs? among end-uses and environmental outcomes, or alternatively there may be expansion of grass acres in such a way that invites fewer trade-offs.”
A grass-shed is a shared approach for identifying opportunities for local market-driven expansion of grass acres while limiting competition with other agricultural production needs at larger scales. The key is finding locations suitable for grass production not only in terms of site conditions but also in terms of economic competitiveness. The grass-shed approach seeks to achieve economic competitiveness by promoting greater demand for grass-based products and materials as well as the environmental and community benefits that grass-based agriculture generates.
Along with increased grass production other major high-priority goals of the grass-shed approach are increased farm profitability and economic resiliency; improved environmental quality; enhanced fish and wildlife conservation; greater community and regional self-reliance; new markets and job creation; and opportunities for educational, vocational and outreach activities. Stayed tuned for updates. Comments or questions? Send your inquiries to Carol Williams.