Savory Hub MSU Named Co-Leader of $19 Million Research Initiative

Funded by FFAR, the initiative aims to understand how land management impacts soil health and farmer well-being, and expand on Savory's Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) protocol
Jason Rowntree speaking on a farm
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East Lansing, MI (January 25, 2022) –Michigan State University — in partnership with Noble Research Institute, Colorado State University, and the University of Wyoming — will be leading a newly announced $19 million research project seeking to understand how farmer and rancher grazing practices affect soil health on pasture and rangeland. Grant funds were awarded by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and Noble Research Institute to form an international coalition of 11 nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, private research institutes, and public universities throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. The Savory Institute will also be working on the project as a key collaborator, with the initiative building upon MSU’s work as an accredited Savory Institute Hub and leader within the growing regenerative movement. 

“Improving the ecological management of these hundreds of millions of acres, farmers and ranchers can be catalysts for sequestering carbon, better managing fresh water, reducing typical greenhouse gas emissions and building soil health, which all benefit society at large,” said Dr. Jason Rowntree, professor of Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State University and project co-lead. “In addition, applying these core agricultural principles also helps producers be more sustainable and profitable, ensuring they can leave a legacy of healthy land and brighter futures for their children. It’s a win-win.”

Pasture and rangeland soils have largely deteriorated in many regions due to poor management, fragmentation, or conversion to cropland. As soil health decreases, the land loses its viability to grow healthy plants, maintain flood-and-drought-resilience, or create wildlife habitat. These lands are among the largest ecosystems on the planet, covering 70 percent of the world’s agricultural area.

The project, entitled Metrics, Management, and Monitoring: An Investigation of Pasture and Rangeland Soil Health and its Drivers, will explore why some producers adopt soil health building principles — such as adaptive grazing management — while others do not. It will also examine social and economic sustainability, which have rarely been studied in agriculture, and will conduct pivotal new research on the Savory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) protocol.

Currently used on over 2.5 million acres, EOV is a comprehensive land monitoring protocol borne from decades of ecological monitoring experience on rangelands around the world. By testing new instrumentation that measures energy, water, and CO2 flux – and linking that data to remote satellite sensing – researchers hope to expand the EOV protocol and further improve its utility to land managers. The large amount of soil samples taken in the project will also be used to refine and improve validation on the latest soil carbon accrual models.

Through the research group’s studies, this initiative will provide farmers and ranchers with the tools necessary to simply and accurately measure outcomes of soil health in grazing land environments. These additional resources will help guide management decisions and quantify the impact of intentional management, since measuring soil health requires techniques that are often site-specific and costly for ranchers. 

MSU served as a principal investigator of the multimillion dollar grants that will finance the Metrics, Management, and Monitoring: An Investigation of Pasture and Rangeland Soil Health and its Drivers initiative. Other collaborators for the project include Savory Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Snaplands LLC, Oregon State University, National Grazing Lands Coalition, USDA-ARS (Maryland, Colorado and Wyoming), and the UK’s Quanterra Systems.

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