Conservation Showcase - Rotational Grazing
Rotational Grazing was a Natural Choice for Missouri Farmer
After more than 50 years of agricultural teaching and research, Fred Martz retired in 1997 and now focuses on a business he enjoyed all his life, farming. With 450 acres located on the outskirts of northeastern Columbia, Martz assists his son, Kevin, in tending to 150 cattle, 24 ewes, 50 lambs, 100 hens and one protective llama on a daily basis.
"Farming is in my blood," Martz said. "My Dad raised dairy cattle and both sets of my grandparents farmed."
An innovator in utilizing rotational grazing, Martz turned to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 1997 for financial and technical assistance to further expand and modernize his system. He now has 60 paddocks which allow him to move four groups of cattle from paddock to paddock every 2-3 days. The process protects the health of the pasture, makes the herd easier to handle and increases the performance and profitability of his livestock.
"We take the cattle off the land and allow the pasture to rest anywhere from 20-to-40 days," Martz said. "This allows plants time to refurbish and develop vegetative tops while also keeping the roots vigorous." He adds that he feeds hay from January through March to supplement the dormant winter pastures.
Martz is former president and current treasurer of the Missouri Forage and Grassland Council and says he has had an interest in pasture management for as long as he can remember.
"I can recall going out with my dad when I was only about seven years old," Martz said. "I'd help him spread super phosphate on our 10 or 12 acres of alfalfa. When the alfalfa grew, it was easy to see the effect that the phosphate had on the vegetation. The phosphate stimulated the alfalfa to grow taller and greener where the heavier application had occurred, making the field look wavy. I was hooked on the science of vegetative growth and its effect on cattle at an early age."
Martz's scientific curiosity expanded as he attended Purdue University. In 1957 he received a bachelor's degree in agricultural education and in 1959 a master's degree in dairy science. Two years later, Martz earned a doctorate in animal nutrition with a focus on dairy cattle. To date, he has published more than 250 journal manuscripts, abstracts and technical articles, a majority pertaining to pasture management and its effects on cattle.
Fifty years ago, Martz and his family moved from northeastern Indiana to Columbia and he began his teaching and research career as assistant professor of dairy science at the University of Missouri. Once in town, Martz and his parents purchased 100 acres of land, 12 beef cows and a bull. Initially, they grew soybeans, corn and wheat along with pasture in rotation.
"The quality of the soils and the yield potential was not high enough to compete with farmers in Iowa and Illinois," Martz said. "The land was highly erodible so we determined that it would be best for us to keep the land green and growing as much as possible and give up on the row crops. With my family's background in cattle, combined with my research on pasture management and the fact that Missouri is the second-largest beef cattle producer in the nation, expanding the cattle operation seemed like the next logical step."
In 1997, Martz added 350 acres to the property and expanded the cattle operation. It was also in 1997 that Martz began his relationship with NRCS.
"We've worked with Fred for several years," NRCS Resource Conservationist Kim Reitz said. He has a well-managed rotational grazing system and we've been able to help him further develop it through technical and financial assistance on paddocks, ponds, well decommissioning, pasture seeding, interseeding legumes in existing pastures and cost share on fence to exclude livestock from his timber. Fred's system is truly one to be admired.
"Fred received Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding for fencing and water installation in 23 paddocks and he recently applied for Conservation Stewardship Program assistance to help maintain and improve 319 acres of pastureland and 70 acres for timber planning and development," Reitz said.
"I applaud the way NRCS works with and cooperates with its partners," Martz said. "Because of their strong relationship with state agencies, we were able to receive technical assistance from NRCS and financial assistance from the Soil and Water Conservation District and Missouri Department of Conservation in the late nineties. NRCS really helped us get advanced technology on the ground."
Combining his two loves, teaching and agriculture, Martz, now University of Missouri Professor Emeritus of animal science, returned to teaching in 2006 after developing the first sustainable agriculture class.
"We get a lot of students from urban areas that have never even been out to a farm," Martz said. "I think it's important to realize that we need these individuals, the ones majoring in law or communications or other non-agriculture areas, to help stand up for the agriculture community. In class we talk about carbon footprints, soil erosion and ways to help the environment. I bring them out to the farm and we talk about pasture management; they get a first-hand look of how the operation works. It's great hands-on experience for these folks."
Martz has passed his enthusiasm and scientific curiosity for agriculture along to future generations, including his son, Kevin, who now raises cattle and lambs for sale at the local Farmer's Market.
"I enjoy what I do," Martz said. "I'm fortunate that I've been able to study what I love, pass it along to others and take care of the land around me."
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