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Improving the Health of the Great Lakes through Profitable Low Overhead Dairy Grazing

Year Awarded: 2023
Awarded: $1,560,001
Team Leader:  The Wallace Center at Winrock International

This project will demonstrate how low-overhead dairy grazing could revitalize the dairy sector by offering a scalable solution for farmers, the environment, and Great Lakes communities. Low-overhead dairy grazing (LODG) is an approach to dairy farming that keeps perennial pasture on the landscape without tillage and with minimal synthetic inputs, reducing sediment and nutrient loss from land and improving water quality.  

The US dairy industry is a significant contributor to phosphorus pollution in the Great Lakes basin. At the same time, small and medium-sized dairy farms in the Great Lakes basin face unprecedented economic pressure and often are pushed to exit the industry. Due to these challenging economics, there is great potential in the dairy industry for innovations that increase profitability and reduce nutrient runoff. LODG is not only an economical option but also has significantly less environmental impact.  

The team will design a hub-based model that will more easily provide a scalable and competitive solution for dairy farms transitioning to regenerative LODG. Hubs will serve as central entities that manage common needs across a group of dairy farms including training, human resources, purchasing, research, and supply chain logistics. 

The team will create this model and accelerate regional momentum by pursuing four work streams: 

  • Develop, test, and refine new strategies and operating models for LODG. The project team will partner with small/medium-sized dairy farms across Michigan, Ohio, and New York to pilot LODG.  These pilots will function as on-farm innovation centers that will capture lessons and opportunities for the future. 
  • Build a user community to refine, package, and embed a change strategy for the new model. Based on learning from the pilot farmers, the team will develop a technical assistance (TA) framework, including templates, and build a new community of practice to deliver TA to a growing network of dairy farms to support replication of the model.  
  • Identify high-impact levers to drive systems change. The team will engage systems change experts to identify pathways for successful transition to LODG, including working with lenders to build lending products to support the LODG transition and identifying how ecosystem credits can offset transition costs.  
  • Design an approach to deliver this model on a landscape scale. The team will create a business plan for a hub-based model that will provide a scalable and competitive solution for dairy farms transitioning to LODG. 

If successful, this project will demonstrate to farmers across the Basin that a LODG model is significantly more profitable, flexible, and resilient than typical dairy farming.