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FFAR awards $1.25m grant to study adaptive multi-paddock grazing for cattle

With additional support from McDonald's USA, researchers seek to improve farm resilience and reduce environmental impacts.

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit established in the 2014 farm bill, awarded a $1.25 million grant to the Arizona State University Foundation for A New American University. Researchers will collect data on adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing to analyze how this grazing technique increases farm resiliency, contributes to carbon sequestration, improves soil biodiversity and affects animal well-being and productivity, the announcement said.

The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from McDonald's USA for a total $2.5 million investment. Researchers continue to raise funds in order to expand the project in the southeastern U.S. and the upper Great Plains.

AMP grazing uses lightweight, portable fencing systems to move animals strategically around a large pasture, allowing for dense grazing interspersed by long periods of recovery for the land. This technique mimics the natural grazing patterns of wild ruminants and is highly adaptive for a variety of livestock, FFAR said. This project will quantify how AMP grazing affects farm and ranch productivity as well as measure environmental impacts of production.

The research is being led by principal investigator Peter Byck with the School of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

"Our interdisciplinary team of scientists are thrilled with FFAR and McDonald's support," Byck said. "We will study what these innovative farmers and ranchers have been researching for 10 to 20 to 30 years on their own land. We feel these producers are the original scientists with AMP grazing, and they put their livelihoods on the line for their research. We will simply measure their results."

Researchers will collaborate with cattle ranchers to study farming operations in the Southeast and Great Plains regions in the U.S. to understand producer perceptions about AMP grazing and evaluate real-world applications of the practice.

"Beef is among McDonald's top sustainability priorities," said Townsend Bailey, director of McDonald's U.S. supply chain sustainability. "Understanding the science connecting grazing practices, soil health and farmer economic well-being will help us direct investments in our supply chain to support continuous improvement in beef sustainability."

McDonald's $1.25 million grant matching funding with FFAR is part of the company's overall $4.5 million commitment to the research.

Besides Byck, co-principal investigators on the project include: Drs. Steve Apfelbaum with Applied Ecological Services, Jason Rowntree with Michigan State University and Allen Williams, chief ranching officer at Joyce Farms. Other project participants include: Russ Conser of Standard Soill, Francesca Cotrufo of Colorado State University, Jennifer Hodbod of Michigan State University, David Johnson of New Mexico State University, Michael Lehman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Jonathan Lundgren of the Ecdysis Foundation, Keith Paustian of Colorado State University, Benjamin Runkle of University of Arkansas, Janice Swanson of Michigan State University, Wendy Taheri of TerraNimbus and Greg Thoma of the University of Arkansas.

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