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New Grass-Based Livestock Working Group Launched

21 July 2008

IOWA - A new statewide group will promote Iowa's grass-based livestock industry as well as the social and environmental benefits that could result from a whole-system approach to this type of livestock production.

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has made a three-year commitment to support a new Grass-Based Livestock Working Group (GBLWG) coordinated by Andy Larson, Iowa State University Extension's new small farms specialist. Larson will bring together a diverse group of farmers, marketers, processors, academics, not-for-profit organizations and agency professionals to tackle some of the challenges to entering this fast-growing segment of the livestock industry.

"We believe that a well-managed system of rotational grazing on perennial pastures can benefit the land, livestock and people in our rural communities," said Leopold Center Director Jerry DeWitt. "We believe that such a system can add diversity to our landscape while providing economic benefits for producers and rural development opportunities for communities."

DeWitt explained that the goal of the new working group will be to boost viability of the grass-based livestock industry in Iowa by addressing practitioners' most pressing issues using sound research and effective knowledge transfer between participants. The working group also will identify educational programs and resources for established and beginning practitioners.

The Leopold Center is funding 25 percent of Larson's position to coordinate GBLWG activities. The group will meet quarterly and will be guided by a steering committee composed of representatives from the Leopold Center, Natural Resource Conservation Service Grasslands Conservation, ISU Extension, Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Iowa Cattlemen's Association.

DeWitt said research and development funds will be made available each year to participant groups to address priority issues as determined by the GBLWG. The Leopold Center has pledged $60,000 for the working group's first year, a portion of which has been designated for research and development projects. Other Leopold Center work that began in 2004 as part of a Grassland Agriculture focus will be incorporated into the GBLWG.

Larson began work as extension program specialist in small farm sustainability in May after graduating from ISU’s College of Business with an MBA and graduate minor in Sustainable Agriculture. He had worked as graduate assistant on the VCP project for the Leopold Center.

Larson received bachelors degrees in anthropology and environmental sciences from the University of Notre Dame and a master's degree in natural resources and environmental sciences from the University of Illinois. Before coming to Iowa in 2006, he spent two years with University of Illinois Extension with the Initiative for the Development of Entrepreneurs in Agriculture. He grew up on a small dairy farm near Pecatonica, Illinois.

The idea for the working group was initiated more than a year ago as part of a special call in the Leopold Center's 2007 Request for Preproposals. The group will be organized as a "community of practice," a concept that has been used in the Value Chain Partnerships (VCP) project to bring people with a common interest together from across the food production and supply chain. Other VCP groups focus on niche pork, regional foods, small meat processors and fruit and vegetable growers.

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