A pilot project to put fragile land into grass-fed beef production could serve as a model to protect the environment and supplement farm income.
 
WSU is conducting the two-year project in Adams County on land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program. The CRP was created by the 1985 federal farm bill to pay farmers to remove highly erodible land from production for 10 to 15 years.
 
More than 1 million acres in Washington is enrolled in CRP. While the program has protected land and helped farmers, it has harmed local economies. With future funding uncertain, farmers with expiring contracts must decide what to do with CRP land.
 
Don Nelson, WSU Extension beef specialist, received an $81,000 ag pilot grant from the state for the pilot project.
 
“We seek to develop a replicable strategy to help farmers make the transition to sustainable alternatives that are profitable, good for the environment and allow farmers to remain on the land and support rural communities,” Nelson said.
 
The pilot is being conducted on land that received organic certification this year. Fences have been installed, a water system started, various grasses tested for suitability to the site, and about 200 head of cattle have begun grazing.
 
In addition to CRP land, the project could serve as a model for farmers who want a profitable and sustainable alternative to dryland wheat production. This could protect fragile farmland, insulate farmers from swings in wheat prices and supplement income through development of hunting enterprises and environmentally sustainable practices.
 
For example, the project’s cooperating Adams County farmer integrated a deer hunting enterprise on his land several years ago.
 
In addition, Nelson would like to look at planned grazing’s effects on carbon sequestration and water filtration as sources of environmental benefit and farm revenue — “if additional funding can be obtained to carry the project beyond June 2009,” he said.