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With more federal aid, grazing grass is greener for WI farmers

Cows in a field
Pixabay.com Leuchtturm81

The milk you drink or the beef you eat may have come from a farm that rotates its livestock in a certain way to establish a healthier landscape. Wisconsin farmers who practice managed grazing have another chance for new federal funding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced $22 million is available for regional networks of farmers who offer peer-to-peer technical assistance on this practice. Managed grazing involves raising and feeding livestock on a pasture and moving them regularly, to allow that section of land to recover.

When federal funding was restored last year, Margaret Krome, policy director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, said the demand was overwhelming.

"It really wasn't a very long application period, and we still had a lot of applicants that couldn't get funded because there was just not enough money," she said, "and we anticipate that will happen again; we really want to make sure Wisconsin farmers have their organizations apply."

These waves of assistance come after a 15-year absence of federal funding for the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. Krome said they're hoping to regain the momentum for this practice from previous decades. The application deadline is May 26. Benefits linked with managed grazing include improved soil health and carbon sequestration.

In northwestern Wisconsin, dairy farmer Kevin Mahalko has been doing managed grazing on his land for nearly 30 decades. He said it has allowed his operation to survive difficult stretches, including drought. And it keeps his expenses lower.

"The cow is doing more of the work," he said, "and using fencing instead of as much equipment, it cuts down on a lot of repairs and maintenance and diesel fuel."

Krome said expanding these education networks can especially help beginning farmers as technology improves, with things such as electric fences for moving livestock.

"That technology, and others that are emerging, has made it a much less expensive investment than many, many approaches to farming," she said.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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