With the aid of a three-year, $3.5 million development grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Michigan State University will establish a pasture-based dairy facility and composting program at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Hickory Corners, Mich. The effort will also develop supply chains and markets for pasture-based dairy products.

According to officials, the dairy facility will be a focal point for research, education and outreach programs that provide farmers with information on dairy management options for moderate to small operations that focus on sustainability from production through consumption.

The program will support sustainable and productive food and farming systems by engaging diverse food system participants — from those who produce, process and market foods to those who consume them. The initiative will help determine best practices for raising animals on pasture and also work to develop an improved supply chain — processing, distribution and marketing programs — for pasture-raised animals. In addition, two new faculty members will be hired in animal grazing ecology and human ecology in rural development as a result of Kellogg’s Food Systems and Rural Development programming.

“To ensure the vitality of rural communities, it is important that we create better market opportunities for small and midsized farms,” said Mike Hamm, C.S. Mott Chair for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU. “These farms are the backbone of communities — as food providers, purchasers of local goods and services, employers, taxpayers and stewards of the landscape. Expanding production options that improve the viability of these farms will help strengthen healthy rural economies and communities.”

The project team hopes to strengthen distribution networks and demand for locally grown animal products raised on pasture. Developing markets based on the place and method of production will help small- and medium-scale farms in Michigan to maintain an added-value advantage for which consumers are willing to pay a premium.

“This program will provide a unique opportunity to evaluate how an animal production system operates in the context of other aspects of the landscape – agricultural, managed and natural,” said Kay Gross, director of KBS. “KBS is well suited for this type of work because of the strong programs in ecology and sustainable row crop agriculture that we have here.”

The conventional dairy operation currently operated at KBS will be converted to a pasture-based program over the next two years. A 120-cow milking herd will be maintained on an intensively managed rotational grazing system and on a replicated plot-based pasture system. A portion of the milk produced at KBS will be used for production of cheese at the MSU Dairy Plant.

The pasture-based dairy facility at KBS will connect MSU’s Department of Animal Science and College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members with faculty and staff members with expertise and interests in agricultural and cropping system ecology, animal health and welfare, and community development.

“The development of a pasture-based dairy at KBS allows us to expand our portfolio of production alternatives for farmers and to develop new research and outreach programs that fit with interests and needs of diverse farm stakeholders,” said Karen Plaut, chairwoman of the Department of Animal Science.

In addition to the development of a pasturing program at KBS, the initiative will support connections to farm-based and high school-based satellite sites across Michigan focusing on sustainable crop and animal production. Education and outreach programs will extend to MSU undergraduate and veterinary medicine curricula as well as to primary and secondary school programs, farmers, consumers and public officials.

MichiganState University