State grant to the Network & WSU “Beefs up the Palouse”
Beefing Up the Palouse was a two-year collaborative project between WSU and the Network that was a unique opportunity to convert land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) into a sustainable, managed grazing, cattle ranching operation in eastern Washington that will benefit farmers, rural communities, consumers and the environment.
In keeping with its mission to reconcile conflicts between existing agricultural land uses and protection of critical areas, The Agricultural Pilots Projects program awarded the Network and WSU $81,000 to “Beef Up the Palouse” in 2007. The Network’s role ended in June 2009 due to lack of funding.
Farming in the Palouse is challenging. Strong winds and highly erodible soils result in tremendous soil loss. Many of the farms in the area receive federal payments to not till their land.
More than 1 million acres of Washington farmland is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a federal program established in the 1985 Farm Bill, which pays farmers to convert highly erodible crop and pasture land and other environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, such as native grasses and plantings for wildlife to help prevent erosion.
Farmers receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance for practices to protect the land in exchange for voluntary agreements to take designated acres out of production for 10 to 15 years. This program results in less soil erosion, but when you stop farming, the infrastructure decays and rural communities decline, as evident in the Palouse.
“We are very excited about this proposal,“ said Executive Director Ellen Gray in 2007. “The Governor’s support is invaluable. Ensuring the viability of our farmers and our farmland is paramount to a healthy community. Sustainable agriculture is a growing industry and Beefing Up the Palouse is a great opportunity to partner with WSU to reinvigorate farming in eastern Washington in a more environmentally friendly manner. It is a win-win for our farmers and the environment. Managed grazing done carefully will increase nutrient cycling and invigorate the grasses. This in turn will provide greater photosynthesis, higher carbon sequestration, and better wildlife habitat.”
Beefing Up the Palouse Livestock Team: Joel and Cynthia Huesby, owners of part of the herd, Maurice Robinette, Co-Project Manager and then Network Staffer, Dick Coon Jr. who manages all of the cows on a daily basis, and Gregg Beckley, who owns the project land.
A successful conversion will benefit the environment and demonstrate that raising grass-fed beef is viable on dryland—historically a wheat-growing area of the Palouse. Don Nelson, WSU Extension Beef Specialist in Pullman, provided expertise and overall project support with co-management by farm owner Gregg Beckley and Maurice Robinette. “The successful conversion of the Beckley Ranch will provide a large-scale demonstration model of sustainable cattle ranching that has no comparison anywhere in the state,” commented Maurice Robinette, a 3rd generation cow-calf rancher and then Network’s eastern Washington organizer. “The project will document and establish standards for replication so other ranchers will be able to follow suit, bringing a much needed boost to an area where the loss of farming has ruined rural businesses and communities.”
“If wheat prices continue at their current high levels, much of the land currently enrolled in CRP could be returned to dryland wheat farming once contracts expire. This will lead to more soil erosion. To prevent this from happening, we seek to develop sustainable alternatives that are profitable, good for the environment, support rural communities and allow farmers to remain on the land.” said Don Nelson.
The Agricultural Pilots Projects program was created to develop and test regional programs and management practices that could reconcile conflicts between existing agricultural land uses and protection of critical areas.
The project has been suspended to due lack of funding. Read the project’s FINAL REPORT.