Given the growing demand for grass fed meats and dairy products, many operators are contemplating either transitioning their existing operation to grass fed or establishing a grass fed livestock component of their operation. The good news for those interested in grass fed operations is that there is a growing pool of available resources on this topic.
Currently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation runs a Maryland Grazers Network which establishes mentorships between farmers new to grazing and experienced farmers, and provides technical assistance on subjects such as pasture and forage management, financial management, marketing, and funding resources. In late November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded a $492,000 grant to enable the increase in the number of grass-fed livestock operations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia). The grant will expand outreach and technical assistance for farmers who graze livestock in the three states, and provide opportunities for current and new grazing farmers to share information. Partner groups will match the grant, providing nearly $1 million in funding.
The grant will be managed through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; in Maryland, the Maryland Grazers Network is the main vehicle for farmers to participate. The grant press release states the goal is to develop a network of more than 250 grazers in the three watershed states and preserve about 1,400 acres of pastures. The hope is that an increase in grass fed livestock operations will benefit water quality to have more pastures, which are covered in permanent vegetation, and will provide farmers with economically attractive products to market.
Activities funded by the grant will include grazing schools and field days, an annual state-specific planning calendar for grazers, a regional conference, quarterly newsletter, and an updated directory for marketing of grass-fed products.
Operators interested in availing themselves of these resources or learning more should contact Michael Heller firstname.lastname@example.org and/or join the Maryland Grazers Network.