Livestock grazing has been an important part of Utah agriculture since the first settlers arrived in 1847. But with the growth of the beef industry, overgrazing became a significant concern, and legislators began enacting laws to limit the amount of land available for grazing in order to protect wildlife and conserve open spaces.
Determined to bridge the gap between sustainability and profitability, the Utah State Legislature funded the Grazing Improvement Program within the Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) to foster long- term, environmentally friendly practices that benefit farmers as well as the land.
The Grazing Improvement Program offers grants to assist in the installation of infrastructure, such as stock-water pipelines, troughs and fences, to make grazing more sustainable and ecologically friendly. The UDAF also works with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to effect grazing policies that improve management of public land grazing. The program also helps brighten the economic outlook for farmers and ranchers, which in turn has an economic impact on rural communities.
“Grazing can actually generate new dollars in a community. Then those dollars are used by the rancher to go to the store, and that keeps the grocery store, furniture store, department store, as well as the equipment dealer in business,” says Troy Forrest, Grazing Improvement Program manager. “We’ve had a lot of producers increase their grazing profits. For instance, we put in a seven- mile pipeline on one producer’s property. Because of the extra infrastructure, the producer was allocated an additional 400 cows that were able to graze on that land for a month, and we did it in a way that was also ecologically sustainable.”
One rancher who has benefited from the Grazing Improvement Program is darrell Johnson, a sixth-generation rancher whose great-great grandfather was one of the first permanent settlers in Rush Valley.
Johnson says the Grazing Improvement Program is helping keep the 6,000-acre ranch productive and sustainable for his children and grandchildren, all of whom work on the ranch.
“We’re going to continue to make [the ranch] better because we know that down the road, there are going to be Johnsons on the place,” he says. “It’s not only a lifestyle, but we’re proud of the accomplishments we’ve made over the years.”
A few of those accomplishments in the new millennium include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Region VI Environmental Stewardship Award, the Lifetime Agriculture Resource development Program Conservationist Award and the Sand County Foundation Leopold Conservation Award.
Economies Of Scale
Forrest says the Grazing Improvement Program continues to grow. The UDAF is in the development process of several large-scale projects involving time-controlled grazing of more than 200,000 acres of mixed ownership land. The project in Rich County plans to combine land into one managed unit, so that any one pasture will only be grazed for 10 to 15 days a year, compared to the 90-day grazing period under current management practices.
“We can control the time the cattle are there and keep them at places for shorter periods of time. In doing so, we provide opportunities for plants to rest, recover and be more productive. So it’s a win-win for everyone,” Forrest says. “We believe that through improved management, grazing is an essential part of the landscape. It can be used as a tool to positively affect ecological conditions on the land.”
He adds, “If grazing is done correctly, we can actually improve plant health. We can cycle nutrients through the system faster and increase productivity, and in so doing, we can make everything better for everybody – not only ecologically, but also economically.”