Additional Areas of Research
Areas for Future Policy Research
Invest in research to quantify the ecosystem services provided by regenerative grazing
Ecosystem services are benefits society obtains from properly functioning ecosystems. They include the provision of food, water, and fuels sources, as well as regulation of climate, water and diseases, and support of soil formation and nutrient cycling. Ecosystem services can also support educational, aesthetic, and cultural heritage values, as well as recreation and tourism.
Global ecosystem services have been valued at over $125 trillion/yr and contribute more than twice as much to human well-being as global GDP. According to the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, more than 60 percent of ecosystems assessed globally are either degraded or being used unsustainably. Regulations, land acquisitions, conservation easements, and tax incentives have been implemented to reduce the loss of ecosystem services. Voluntary Carbon Markets are an example of an attempt to monetize carbon sequestration ecosystem services. However, carbon markets have faced many challenges initiating agricultural emissions reductions in the US. Federal working land programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) (discussed above) provide financial support for landowners and producers implementing connection practices that protect ecosystem services. However, these programs don’t go far enough. Integrating ecosystem services into federal resource management in the US remains an ongoing challenge and need.
Achieve the priorities of the 2020 Agriculture Resilience Act
In February 2020, Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine introduced the Agriculture Resilience Act to the House of Representatives. Building on USDA’s 2020 Agriculture Innovation Agenda, the Act accelerates the timeline for emissions reductions in the agriculture sector, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 50% in 2030 and achieving zero by 2040. The Bill’s six priorities include increasing investment in sustainable agriculture research, promoting soil health, conserving farmland, supporting pasture-based livestock, increasing on-farm energy innovation, and reducing food waste. Passage of the Agriculture Resilience Act would provide USDA with many viable avenues to achieve the emissions reductions outlined by the Agriculture Innovation Agenda. Many of the Act’s priorities are directly relevant to regenerative graziers. One of the Bill’s priorities focuses exclusively on “supporting pasture-based livestock systems." Suggestions under this priority include improving financial assistance for niche meat processors - a significant bottleneck for moving pasture-based meats to the marketplace - and creating a program to protect at-risk grassland with CRP. Other goals in the bill indirectly support regenerative grazing. The soil health goal, for example, aims to explore carbon markets and tax incentives for soil carbon sequestration as ways to reward farmers. The energy generation initiative also includes a directive for USDA to study the utility of combined livestock and renewable energy systems.
Utilization of ‘Prescribed Grazing’ Conservation Practice Standard
The National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) provides farmers, ranchers and forest managers with resources, such as technical assistance or advice, for conservation planning. In collaboration with landowners and producers, NRCS technical assistants survey the landowners' situation, providing them with a conservation plan that outlines specific conservation practices to help them overcome their natural resource limitations and improve sustainability. NRCS has compiled a comprehensive library of National Conservation Practice Standards (CPS). Each CPS outlines the specific practice, its purpose, the conditions for its application and criteria for its implementation and maintenance. A schedule for implementation of specific conservation practices is also provided. NRCS financial assistance, delivered through programs such as RCPP and EQIP, is directly tied to CPS. Thus, conservation plans adapted around current conservation practice standards act as roadmaps towards financial assistance opportunities for producers and landowners.
Under section IV of the North Carolina Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG), a CPS has been established for rotational grazing practices under the name ‘prescribed grazing.’ This CPS provides a comprehensive list of the co-benefits of ‘prescribed grazing,’ and supporting documents contain advice from NCSU on how to intensively graze specific grass types. While the ‘prescribed grazing’ CPS contains many of the principles of regenerative grazing, it does not seem to be a popular tool employed by NC ranchers transitioning to regenerative grazing.
In the interest of opening up more funding avenues for regenerative grazing practices in North Carolina and beyond, it would be useful to research why the ‘prescribed grazing’ CPS doesn’t seem to be popular among regenerative graziers in NC and how utilization of this CPS can be improved.
Prescribed Grazing CPS: https://efotg.sc.egov.usda.gov/references/public/NC/528_CPS_NC_Final.pdf