This paper, written collaboratively by the Pasture Project team and partners in the Upper Midwest and published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation in January 2021, provides an overview of opportunities to increase regenerative grazing in the Upper Midwest of the United States, specifically in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB). Agriculture in the UMRB is dominated by conventional corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) production, much of which is used for animal feed. The region’s emphasis on productivity has been hard on both soils and farms. Decades of intensive tillage and synthetic inputs have resulted in nutrient-laden sediment washing or blowing away, impairing aquatic ecosystems and threatening the livelihoods of interconnected Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico communities. Declining soil health and increasing dependence on synthetic inputs are also economic threats to UMRB farms. These trends reduce the resiliency of farms to withstand increasingly frequent extreme weather.
However, movements to reverse the negative environmental and economic trends on UMRB farms, often farmer-led, have made progress over the past decades. Adoption of conservation paradigms such as no-till and cover cropping and organic certification have helped many producers advance toward regenerative practices. These shifts—toward lower impact, diversified production—have created opportunities for reintegrating livestock grazing as a viable tool for farms while building soil health and its accompanying environmental and societal benefits. This paper presents a shared context of such efforts and offers recommendations on expanding regenerative grazing in the Upper Midwest.