Documenting Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing’s Benefits

Year Awarded  2023

FFAR award amount   $1,250,000 (2017) & $1,550,000 (2022 Renewal)

Total award amount   $2,500,000 (2017) & $3,100,000 (2022 Renewal)

Location   Tempe, AZ

Matching Funders   McDonald’s USA

  • Soil Health

Can Grazing be More Environmentally & Economically Sustainable?

Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) grazing is a livestock management practice that uses lightweight, portable fencing systems to move animals strategically around a large pasture. This method allows for shorter periods of grazing with moderate plant use and provides the land time to recover after grazing. AMP grazing mimics the natural grazing patterns of bison, which are considered by some the best grazing land managers, and is highly adaptive for a variety of livestock.

Unlike conventional grazing practices, in which animals continuously graze in one location, AMP grazing could increase farm resiliency, contribute to carbon sequestration, improve soil biodiversity and impact animal wellbeing and productivity. Smaller studies of AMP grazing confirmed these benefits, though scientists and ranchers needed additional research to prove that AMP grazing can achieve these goals more effectively than continuous grazing practices.

mimic the roaming bison graphic comparing conventional grazing practices with cows in entire field to AMP grazing practices with cows in concentrated area of the field with remaining field at rest
Conventional grazing compared to Amp grazing Image courtesy of Standard Soil.

Details About This Research

FFAR and McDonald’s USA funded the additional research, led by Peter Byck, professor of practice, Schools of Sustainability and Journalism at Arizona State University. To test whether AMP grazing or conventional, continuous grazing are better for the land and/or the farmers’ income, Byck and his research team recruited five neighboring ranchers in the Southeastern U.S. to participate in this long-term study where one farmer was practicing AMP grazing and the other used continuous grazing practices. The researchers selected the conventional farms by matching the soil types, slopes and aspects to the sun to the five AMP grazing farms. They then compared results, neighbor to neighbor. For the first time, researchers quantified how AMP grazing provides significant impact on farm and ranch productivity, as well as measurable environmental benefits.

What we're calling Adaptive Multi-Paddock grazing has a spectrum, but it's folks who are moving their animals usually once a day or more. They're keeping their animals in one herd for the most part. The size of the herd, the size of their paddocks, the size of their ranch is all up to their own specific needs. It seems to be able to turn around land quickly. Peter Byck
Professor of Practice, School of Sustainability and Journalism at Arizona State University

Documentary Details the Research

In addition to the scientific findings, Byck is directing a four-part documentary, Roots So Deep (you can see the devil down there), detailing the experiences of farmers practicing both methods of grazing and the scientists working on their farms.

Roots So Deep (you can see the devil down there) Trailer 1

Video poster for Roots So Deep (You Can See the Devil Down There) showing the title embedded in a cross section of plants above with deep roots below the soil.

AMP Grazing’s Proven Benefits

The research produced clear data showing that AMP grazing increases carbon sequestration and soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and improves soil microbial and fungal life. It also appears to be a viable mitigation of water shortages and can contribute to reducing the magnitude of flooding. Finally, AMP grazing can help restore the declining populations of grassland birds.

In addition, this research provided data sets that allow AMP grazing to be represented in greenhouse gas emission modeling, helping to create agriculture strategies to address climate change.

AMP grazing also greatly benefited ranchers. The healthier soil on AMP-grazed farms can save farmers $50,000 or more per year on nitrogen and fertilizer. After they learned the results of the study, four out of five conventional ranchers in the study asked to learn more about AMP grazing from the team’s experts. Three of them have since adopted AMP grazing on their operations, while a fourth is in the planning stages to begin using AMP grazing.

Published Research from the AMP Grazing Southeast U.S. Study

cover page of AMP grazing research published in Peer J journal

Read the multiple published papers on this research here.

Next Steps for AMP Grazing Research

The ecological and economic benefits of AMP grazing in the Southeast U.S. are clear; and with 15.8 hectares of grazing land in this region, AMP grazing could be scalable if enough ranchers choose to adopt it. The science team has asked to replicate much of this research in the Northern Great Plains because that region has a much shorter growing season and is much drier and cooler than the Southeast. FFAR has renewed funding to conduct this second research phase to discover if AMP grazing is beneficial in this different region of the U.S.

Investigating for regenerative agriculture and food 2022 Peter Byck Roots So Deep (you can see the devil down there) showing Peter’s headshot and a spectrogramA conversation with Peter Byck about AMP grazing and his new four-part documentary series Roots So Deep (you can see the devil down there).

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