WISA Research Program

GrassWorks and the Grazing Futures League: Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (WISA)

Download a PDF copy of Growing Wisconsin’s Grazing Future: Results of the Blue Sky, Greener Pastures Consultation Process

In the spring of 2010 Dr. Jack Kloppenburg of the UW-Madison and former GrassWorks Executive Director, Valerie Adamski, wrote a proposal for re-invigorating “The Wisconsin Idea” in agriculture.[*]

According to The Wisconsin Idea, “the boundaries of campus are the boundaries of the state” and the educational efforts of the University of Wisconsin should benefit all Wisconsin citizens. Grazing farmers in the state have long been discouraged by the fact that the grazing research conducted at university farms does not reflect the conditions on our real farms. UW farms most often replicate large confinement dairies, with large, non-grazing Holstein cows and huge amounts of liquid manure. The end results of university research are thus often ill-suited for practical application on grazing farms. In addition, graziers are extremely knowledgeable in their own right, with expertise in a range of relevant topics, and are capable of contributing to the research process. In our view, farmers and university scientists should work together to investigate important topics in the sustainable agriculture community.

Our proposal “GrassWorks and the Grazing Futures League” aims to put UW researchers in touch with (and back out on) real working farms around the state. The project has received funding from the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (WISA), which provides a year-long opportunity to jump start community planning and execution of sustainable agriculture research across the state.

Late this summer, GrassWorks and the UW-College of Ag and Life Science will convene meetings around the state where everyone in the community, including farmers of all kinds (beef, chicken, goat, conventional, organic, sheep, horse, etc), researchers, extension agents, land conservation staff and consumers—anyone who has an interest in the issues—can sit together in a roundtable discussion on the future of agriculture in Wisconsin. Together we will create an agenda for research in agriculture for the next ten years.

Although most research ideas will likely focus on production agriculture, some research may include impacts of public policy and social movements in agriculture. Research proposals questions can be generated in a variety of topics in agriculture, ranging from questions such as “What kind of grass should I plant?” (production methods) to “How do modernization tax credits impact grazing farms?” (policy issues) to “How widespread is consumer interest in grass-fed food?” (social issues) to “Do raw milk benefits outweigh its risks?” (multiple issues). We will listen to one another and brainstorm a list of the questions that we really want answered.

Next, a steering committee will distill the ideas/questions and reflect them back to the community for verification. After that, priorities will be set on which research or other programming proposals warrant further development. Teams of interested researchers and farmers and citizens will take ownership of proposals and develop them further. These proposals can then be submitted to a variety of funding agencies and, hopefully, because of the grassroots manner in which they were generated, the knowledge they create will have a substantial impact on agriculture and the future of the state.

This brings us back to The Wisconsin Idea which “was considered a unique experiment in popular government, in which Wisconsin’s public university played a significant role in helping shape its legislation.” It is time again for UW Faculty and farmers and citizens to apply our knowledge to help guide the state’s administration. The grassroots community can influence policy through research rather than abdicating governance to special interests and lobbyists and can help to ensure that Wisconsin’s institutions serve its citizens.

[*] First attributed to UW President Charles Van Hise in 1904, the Wisconsin Idea is the principle that education should influence and improve people’s lives beyond the university classroom. For more than 100 years, this idea has guided the university’s work. For more information on the Wisconsin Idea please follow this link http://www.wisconsinidea.wisc.edu/history.html