Report recommends taking action to realize the potential of underutilized grasslands as a farming resource that will spur rural economic development, grow the regional food supply, and enhance environmental outcomes for all citizens of New York State.
by Dan Welch
There are over 3 million acres of grasslands in New York State that are not currently being used for agricultural production. This presents an opportunity for the state to encourage economic development on these lands that will lead to job creation, enhance regional and local food security, and contribute to sustainable agriculture enterprises. Beef and dairy cattle farms return $2.40 of every $1.00 in sales to their local communities in purchases, taxes, and payroll. In addition, promoting agriculture as a viable use for grasslands reduces development pressure and lessens the impact residential development can have on communities.
For the last several years a team of farmers, Cornell Cooperative Extension Educators, Cornell faculty, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, and staff from other non-profit agencies has been working on a report that outlines the current state of the grassland resource in New York, and provides recommendation for encouraging the sustainable use of this resource. The product of this effort is the report; Green Grass, Green Jobs: Increasing Livestock Production on Underutilized Grasslands in NYS. It is hoped that this report will be a resource for extension educators in planning programs, that policy makers will consider the recommendations made by the team, and that farmers can use the information to influence institution and agencies to make changes that will support grassland utilization in New York.
While there are several options for utilizing grasslands, livestock production is the focus of this report. There is the opportunity to integrate management intensive grazing into at least some portion of any livestock production system. A wide range of livestock operations can be supported on under-utilized grasslands in New York. Some of the potential livestock enterprises could include niche and conventional beef production and marketing, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, and exotic species. Other opportunities for grasslands include pasturing of poultry and hogs. Another use of this land could be the production of stored forages for pasture supplementation and winter feeding. New livestock production operations on these lands build on existing infrastructure and knowledge in Upstate New York.
Several barriers exist to the increases utilization of grasslands for livestock production. One of these barriers is farmers’ limited access to these underutilized grasslands and capital to develop agricultural enterprises. In some parts of the state, land has become prohibitively expensive, and in other parts competing uses such as development, conservation programs, energy crops, and minerals prevent establishment of grass-based agriculture. For those interested in starting a grazing dairy, credit may not be available due to the perception that such a dairy farm cannot be profitable. On the other hand, livestock farmers other than dairy farmers face a lack of familiarity of economic benchmarks, which in turn cause some lenders to shy away from extending credit to these businesses. Additionally, there are specific knowledge and production challenges for each type of farm that need to be addressed through research, education, and extension.
The Grasslands Utilization Work Team recommends taking actions in research, education, extension, and policy to realize the potential of our grasslands as a farming resource that will spur rural economic development, grow the regional food supply, and enhance environmental outcomes for all citizens of New York State. As rural demographics shift, farmers need to be prepared to take advantage of land that could potentially be grazed. There is the opportunity for landowner education about grazing leases as well as the potential for other types of farming operations to integrate a grazing enterprise into their current farms.
The Grasslands Utilization Work Team would like to acknowledge the support of the Cornell Small Farms Program and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in completing the report. Copies of the report are available at www.smallfarms.cornell.edu
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