Building Partnerships to Address Social and Technological Challenges to Enhance Farm Profitability and Improve Water Quality Through Better Grassland Management


With 2.1 million acres of pastureland and 1.25 million acres of hay land in Virginia, the rural Virginia landscape is predominately grassland. These lands form the base of the $3.96 billion-dollar livestock and dairy industry in Virginia. Managing these livestock in a profitable manner for farmers and beneficial to the environment is important. A cultural tradition with roots in colonial times has been to run animals in large fields year-round throughout Virginia. Livestock often graze from spring until fall (about 220 days), and farmers feed hay the remainder of the year. Spikes in the cost of fuel, fertilizer, and equipment are making traditional grazing/haying systems less profitable. The Virginia Cooperative Extension Farm Enterprise budgets show that that the cost of hay accounts for over 50% of the cost of sustaining livestock annually. University of Kentucky shows that most cow-calf producers maximize their profitability by shifting from grazing 220 days to grazing 275 to 300 days. Extension agents working with livestock producers found that they could improve their profitability by at least $75 per cow by extending their grazing season. The same phenomenon applies to other types of grazing livestock. If ten percent of the livestock producers in the state adopted better grazing management to extend their grazing season by 60 days, profitability is expected to for Virginia grazing livestock producers by over $5 million per year. Practices such as rotational grazing and stream exclusion are directly tied to National and State goals to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia’s Phase III WIP (Chesapeake Bay Watershed Improvement Plan) seeks the exclusion of livestock from all perennial streams and achieving good rotational grazing practices on 347,000 acres of pasture. A number of agencies and private sector groups have been providing cost share and technical guidance to incentivize livestock stream exclusion and the installation of pasture management infrastructure. Installation is only part of the challenge. Farmers also need to be taught how to how to manage the system in a profitable manner and have been slow to adopt good pasture management practices. Preliminary data show that 87% of Virginia’s cow-calf producers manage their grasslands using traditional methods. Only six percent have extended their grazing season beyond 265 days.



Congress, Grassland, IGC