Virginia Forage and Grassland Council to Hold Winter Conference | VTx


The Virginia Forage and Grassland Council will hold a winter conference Jan. 18-21 that will explore the challenges the livestock industry faces as it seeks to be understood as part of the solution to global environmental problems.

The conference, a one-day event titled “The Green Side of the Beef: Defending Prairie Farming,” will be repeated in four different locations across the Commonwealth: January 18 in Wytheville, January 19 in Chatham, January 20 January in Rapidan, and ending January 21 at Weyers Cave.

Whether the argument touches on morals, economics, ecology, politics or nutrition, cattle breeding is contested territory. Cattle ranchers have long been besieged as perpetrators of a multitude of human problems, from erosion to climate change to obesity. But current science and historical evidence suggests that the cow itself can save the bad reputation of the beef industry.

Nicolette Hahn Niman, author of “Defending Beef: The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat”, sums it up: “It’s not the cow, it’s the how.”

Niman will be the keynote speaker at the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council’s upcoming annual winter conference, aimed at both farmers and environmentalists.

One of the ‘hows’, according to Niman, is rotational grazing, which can improve soil health and in turn improve water quality, increasing biodiversity both above and below. soil and sequester carbon.

Mike Phillips, a fourth-generation farmer in Rockingham County and winner of the National Environmental Stewardship Award for his Valley View farms, says he understood this for himself. Once upon a time on a rare trip away from his farm and gazing at a scale model of the Great Plains when he envisioned the buffalo migrations there.

“I ask, ‘What was it like here before the Europeans came in and started disrupting the life cycle?’ The bison herd was the largest rotational grazing system ever, ”said Phillips. “They move, eat fodder, throw in manure.”

That’s when Phillips returned home and set up a rotating pasture for his herd.

Becky Szarzynski, co-owner of Mountain Glen Farm in Rockbridge County, where she has a thriving herd of 125 South Poll cattle on 325 acres, credits her success to her cattle, a breed particularly suited to the Virginia summers.

On a warm August morning, standing almost hip-length in the native grasses and legumes, with a herd behind us, she announced, “I heard a Bobwhite quail here this week.”

The Bobwhite Quail is rarely seen these days, although decades ago it was prolific in this region. Szarzynski doesn’t take credit for it, but it’s clear that she sees the Virginia Pollock’s evidence as a promising sign.

“I hope to work in collaboration with my cattle so that everyone benefits …

“I often swim and boat in our local rivers and I hike and eat in the forests, so I think the practices that take place on my farm also contribute to these environments,” he said. she declared.

Matt Booher, agriculture and natural resources extension officer at Virginia Cooperative Extension, believes that Virginia farmers like Phillips and Szarzynski, who have been successful in halting erosion and building the volume of healthy soil on their farms, may soon be able to sell carbon credits. due to the carbon sequestration capacity in their soils.

Scientists, chefs, environmentalists, nutritionists and farmers have backed Niman’s claims. “Defending Beef” has been hailed by publications as disparate as The Wall Street Journal and Mother Jones. Republished in 2021, the revised and expanded edition includes additional references and updated statistics from private and government sources. It also includes a section dealing with issues in the meat supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, including registration forms, visit

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