MSU researcher part of new $10M project to study, support diverse perennial forage systems across the US

MSU to receive $900K and lead efforts with farms to evaluate benefits and risks.

Kim Cassida in perennial pasture
Kim Cassida, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences and Extension specialist, in a perennial pasture.

With the support of a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a multi-state team of researchers is studying diverse perennial forage systems and promoting their adoption across the United States.

The project, led by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, involves a diverse, transdisciplinary team of more than 50 researchers and stakeholders from 23 universities, two USDA-Agricultural Research Service centers, as well as 12 farmer organizations, industry groups, non-governmental organizations and government agencies.

“The prevailing agricultural systems in the U.S. are dominated by annual crop monocultures that lack resilience to extreme weather, are challenged by soil erosion and other environmental issues,” said project director Valentin Picasso, associate professor in the UW–Madison Department of Agronomy. “Through this new project, we hope to promote the transformation of the landscape to be more resilient, by integrating more perennial crops and forages with livestock.”

Michigan State University will receive $900,000 of the grant and manage a significant part of the project.

Kim Cassida, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences and MSU Extension specialist, is leading the effort to convene a nationwide network of 50 pairings of farms — each consisting of one farm already using diverse perennial forage systems along with one using the prevalent cropping system for the region. All locations will represent major agro-ecoregions of the U.S.

“Our farm pairs are the core of our project,” she said. “Researchers will partner with them to measure and compare the numerous production, environmental, social, economic and policy factors that influence farming decisions. We will use the results to create new online resources and decision tools that help farmers evaluate the benefits and risks of adopting diverse perennial forage systems. 

“The long-term goal is to facilitate adoption of diverse perennial forage systems across more than 9 million hectares of land in the U.S.”

Cassida is also leading the Cooperative Extension and outreach efforts for the project.

“This is the time for agriculture, forestry, and rural communities to act,” said Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in an Oct. 6 release. “Together we can lead the way with investments in science, research and climate-smart solutions that feed and nourish families, improve the profitability and resilience of producers, improve forest health, while creating new income opportunities, and building wealth that stays in rural communities.”

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