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Grazing and Conservation

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stonewall and electric fenceThe Grazing and Conservation Seminar brought together fifty grass farmers, conservationists, and scientists to explore the potential for expanding grass-based farming in New England. How can we increase the conservation and environmental benefits of grass farming, and also address the economic and environmental challenges it faces? What is the role of conservation organizations in supporting such practices and in reintroducing farming to their own land?

Today, New Englanders from our urban centers to rural towns are demanding healthy food that is locally produced. The New England Food Vision suggests that our region could produce 50% of its own food—a tremendous economic and cultural revival for rural areas. But can expanded farming also conserve soil, protect water quality, and provide diverse habitat? One important approach might be regenerative grassland management as an economical means to deliver environmental benefits.

Grazing ruminants, if well managed, can conserve and rebuild topsoil. But while some existing cropland might be reconfigured to grass-based systems, a larger expansion in New England pastures would soon require clearing forests, which are unsurpassed at protecting water quality and sequestering carbon. The seminar explored current thinking on the opportunities and challenges of converting conventional agriculture to grass-based farming, and of converting forest land to farm land. From it will come an agenda for a collaborative farm-based research network to further explore these questions, and to help set standards for regenerative agriculture that retains and increases conservation benefits.

The Grazing and Conservation Seminar was a collaboration of the Harvard Forest, the Wildlands and Woodlands initiative, Ridge Shinn, East Quabbin Land Trust, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, Franklin Land Trust, Lookout Foundation, and Highstead Foundation.

September 7 - 8, 2016: Grazing and Conservation Seminar