Farm with Grass

Replacing single-row crops and other farming practices may be the way to beat the uncertainties of climate change.

| June 26, 2009

Grass and other perennial plants may be just what the doctor ordered for farmers facing the uncertainties of climate change. And beef and dairy products from free-ranging, grass-fed cattle – along with legumes and grains grown in addition to grass – may be just what the doctor ordered for consumers.

That's the "post-oil agriculture" vision portrayed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and other participants at the Farming with Grass Conference held in Oklahoma in 2008. In 2009, the Soil and Water Conservation Society published the proceedings from that conference in an online book, "Farming with Grass."

ARS scientists Jean L. Steiner and Alan J. Franzluebbers co-wrote the foreword to the book and the closing chapter, "Expanding Horizons of Farming with Grass." Steiner is at the ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Oklahoma. Franzluebbers is at the ARS J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center in Watkinsville, Georgia.

The closing chapter was written with Constance L. Neely, vice president of Heifer International in Little Rock, Arkansas. Steiner, Franzluebbers and Neely explain that perennial plants, in diverse agricultural systems, have great potential to enhance resilience against uncertain climate and market conditions.

Steiner's ARS colleagues Bill Phillips and Brian Northup – who co-wrote their own chapter on forage-based beef production – are in the second year of a five-year study to develop a system to produce grass-fed beef for the southern Great Plains. Phillips and Northup are at the ARS lab in El Reno. ARS scientists in Booneville, Arkansas; Mandan, North Dakota; and Watkinsville, Georgia, are also looking for innovative ways to include grazing cattle in economically diverse farming systems.

In summarizing stories from the conference, participants envisioned mixed livestock, perennial plants and other crops, instead of large stands of a single-row crop monoculture. The goal is to sustain farms and rural communities both economically and environmentally, while offering local, healthy foods and other new products.

Connie Murray
6/26/2009 10:02:59 AM

There's an old saying -- you are what you eat. In America, we have become the land of the grossly fat and diabetic by eating so much junk food, fast food, snack food. Why isn't everyone taking notice that at least half the problem is that the grocery stores sell cheap, non-nutrious food! If everyone would cut down on red meat and switch to occasionally eating meat that had been grown on grass, we'd not only be thinner, we'd be HEALTHIER. No one should eat fast food 3x a day. That's a recipe for disaster not to mention diabetes. Buy organic food or grow your own. Your health and self-image will improve dramatically and you'll be fighting global warming too because billions of cows (icky as it is) do contribute to global warming. Less junk = better health = cleaner planet.

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