Four simple tools for measuring progress

View of soil

They don’t cost much, either

By Allen Williams

Interest in regenerative agriculture is growing exponentially. With the rapid rise in almost every conceivable input cost coupled with ongoing weather extremes, we are seeing more farmers and ranchers express significant interest. The flood of inquiries is often overwhelming.

This interest is coming not only from farmers and ranchers here in the U.S., but from farmers around the world. Weather extremes continue to be the norm. Drought in the Extreme to Exceptional categories continues in many areas in the western U.S., while others are experiencing flooding conditions.

For all of us, the time to reinvigorate our regenerative efforts is now. We simply cannot afford not to.

The question for all of us is: “Are we doing enough, both on our own farms and to persuade our neighbors to make positive changes?”

In order to know where we are and to track our forward progress, we need measurement tools that allow us to quickly, easily and simply make progress. Within Understanding Ag, we use four simple tools to monitor our soils and conditions on a routine basis.

Anyone can use these tools. Anyone can afford these tools. They do not require collecting samples and shipping to a laboratory and waiting days or weeks for results. They do not require ongoing expenditure.

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Figuring the dollar value of fodder and pods

Sheep eating vegetation

Trees can offer much more than shade

By Austin Unruh

In looking to add trees to a grazing operation, the first thing on most people’s minds is shade.

Shade helps growing animals gain weight faster, give more milk and conceive at higher rates. The value of shade is quite well established.

Yet a grass farm needs more than just shade. Among those needs is supplemental feed at times of year when forages are in short supply. For most folks that means winter and the peak of summer.

For summer, tree leaf fodder can be an alternative to hay. Leaf fodder can come from trees that have nutritious, palatable leaves, grow back readily, and put on a lot of leaf biomass. Mulberries are probably the best at this, followed by willows, poplars, black locust and others.

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Relaxed intensity works for this grazier

Farmer with beef

Greg Nowicki manages well, but doesn’t push too hard

By Joel McNair

Athens, Wisconsin — When it comes to direct marketing his grass-finished beef, Greg Nowicki says “that’s just not me.”

Each year Greg does sell a few wholes, sides and quarters to local folks. Marketing much more than that from this rural north-central Wisconsin locale would require more sales effort than he is willing to expend. Slots at local processing facilities are booked up many months into the future, thus providing a major hurdle to growing any direct sales venture.

So Greg chooses to ship at least 80% of his cattle through the Wisconsin Grass-fed Beef Cooperative and its Wisconsin Meadows label.

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Who will reap carbon market rewards?

Farmer with cows

By Joel McNair

Imagine if someone offered you $150 an acre just to keep doing what you’re already doing. No doubt some of you would turn away due to philosophical reasons, and at least initially quite a few of you would view the pitch as just another dose of snake oil.

But no doubt many of you would be intrigued.

Intriguing indeed is the concept of being paid for ecosystem services. And it’s happening. Specifically, private enterprise is offering payments to farmers who are either judged or proven to be reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Why you should avoid grazing coarse stems

Farmer with sheep

Neither animals nor soils will benefit from the practice

By Janet McNally

Recently I heard a fellow grazier advocating that we should be grazing the stems of pasture forages.

His reasoning is that with the leaves gone, the stems pull energy from the roots. With no photosynthesis from the leaves, the plant cannot replace that energy. So the plant is better off with the stems gone. He admitted he was in the minority with that opinion.

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Taking research with a grain of salt

Allen Williams

All of it is anecdotal

By Allen Williams

The British statistician George E. P. Box stated that “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

This has become an oft-quoted statement in scientific circles. Box was referring to the fact that in science there is a growing trend to develop theoretical models with the purpose of predicting some type of behavior or outcome based on data assumptions used in the model.

While no model can predict the exact outcome of any singular event, models can be useful if the assumptions are good and the output is close enough.

Having been a scientist and a farmer for more than 30 years now, I often hear people talk about “anecdotal” research or data. Their point is that if the research was not peer-reviewed and published, it has no value. This is particularly insinuated with observational data.

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