The Challenge: Not all efforts to restore grasslands can or should involve planting scores of species and attempting to re-create high-diversity grasslands. One of the simplest ways to regain lost grasslands is by simply converting small percentages of our existing pastureland back to a mix of nutrient-rich native grasses and forbs, even if only using a few species. We may never again see a single 10,000-acre block of grassland in the Southeast, but through market-driven conservation, we can regain that amount and more in small blocks scattered across rural farmlands, in what some are calling “working lands for wildlife.”
More than 99 percent of the land that once supported native grasslands is today in private ownership, primarily as cropland and pastures. Modern pastures were “improved” in the 20th century by replacing native grasses with non-native species such as fescue and Bermuda grass. In contrast to native grasses, fescue and Bermuda form a dense sod, making survival difficult for ground-nesting birds and small mammals which need the small “pathways” between native bunch grasses to move about safely. Modern pastures are remarkably lacking in biodiversity. A typical cattle pasture may contain 10-25 species, many of which are non-native weeds, compared to native grasslands, which may contain in excess of 100 species. The loss of pastures once dominated by native species has contributed to the rapid decline of many pollinators, small birds, and small mammals.
Research shows that converting just 20-30 percent of pasture to native species can improve profits for farmers. Native grasses are better adapted to drought, needing little to no fertilizers, and are better for local biodiversity and water quality. Native grasses provide protein-rich summer grazing that can help farmers get through drought-induced summer slumps where they might otherwise have to resort to buying hay or even selling some of their herd. By incorporating pollinator-friendly native plants, pastures can be restored in such a manner as to be both profitable and environmentally friendly.
SGI’s Role: SGI will partner with Aliança Commercial (Nashville, TN), HeartBrand Beef (Harwood, TX), and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Native Grasslands Management (Knoxville, TN) to create a sustainable, all-natural, grass-fed beef program that is “rooted” in grassland conservation, and which is founded on Aliança’s “Producing Right” sustainability platform. Aliança has a proven track record in sustainability through its ongoing market-driven conservation efforts in Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, and Mexico. In Brazil, they have worked with cattle producers to produce high-quality beef while preserving more than 10 million of acres of Amazon Rainforest that would otherwise have been cleared for production.
In our system, participation is 100% voluntary. Participating members will improve the genetic stock of their herds by incorporating HeartBrand’s superior genetics and Akaushi cattle. Beef produced by our members will be of the highest quality and sold at a premium in high-end markets and restaurants and marketed as a Tennessee product endorsed by the TN Dept. of Agriculture.
To join our program, SGI-Aliança field coordinators will perform diagnostic surveys of member properties and will generate reports that provide landowners with a (1) 10-year marketing/economic outlook with guidelines on how to improve profits and production, (2) biological and ecological survey with suggestions for how to maximize native biodiversity and preserve/restore natural communities, and (3) advice on how farmers can make improvements to ensure they are producing the highest-quality beef possible while also protecting natural resources. We see the “producing right” platform as a win-win for all.