Professor of Grassland Ecology
College of Agricultural & Life Sciences | Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies | Department of Agronomy
Hometown: La Habra, CA
Randy Jackson and his grassland ecology group study how carbon and nutrients flow into, within, and out of grassland ecosystems. Randy grew up in southern California, played baseball and earned a BS in Environmental Science at UC Riverside, an MS in Natural Resource Sciences at Humboldt State University, and a PhD in Ecosystem Science at UC Berkeley. He joined the Department of Agronomy at UW-Madison in 2003 as part of a 3-person “cluster hire” in Agroecology. Randy teaches Grassland Ecology and co-instructs Introduction to Agroecology. Randy co-leads the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST), a 32-year-old experiment in Arlington, WI. He also co-leads Grassland 2.0, a USDA-funded project working to transform agriculture in the upper Midwest to a system that provides for our wants and needs while cleaning water, reducing flooding, and supporting biodiversity.
Grassland 2.0 - Restoring prairie and people to agriculture of the upper Midwest
Transforming Wisconsin’s livestock (milk and meat) production from grain-based to grassland-based is critical for human health and well-being. As the true cost of our agricultural production systems are considered by policymakers and consumers (Gibson et al. 2022), and our understanding grows about the solution space for agroecosystems that help clean water, build soil, reduce flooding, and enhance biodiversity, while providing for our wants and needs (Reynolds et al. 2021, Wepking et al. 2022), the amount of agricultural land restored to well-managed grazed perennial grasslands will grow. Societal demand for a plurality of ecosystem services from our agricultural landscapes will drive policies incentivizing grassland agriculture (Rissman et al. 2022) whose products will be in high demand by consumers informed with more comprehensive understandings of the soil, water, atmosphere, land, livestock welfare, and community vitality ramifications of production (Bengtsson et al. 2019, Jarchow et al. 2020, Gordon et al. 2021, Provenza et al. 2021, Rose et al. 2021). Products emerging from grassland agriculture will not represent the most efficient possible extraction of calories from the land. Rather, value will be considered by consumers with a formula whose numerator is the number of people fed as well as the nutritional quality and variety of products (Coleman et al. 2010) rather than calories produced, and whose denominator is land area rather than production quantity (Benton and Bailey 2019).
Grazed perennial grasslands can match current beef production while contributing to climate mitigation and adaptation
Grain-finished beef production is devastating our health and well-being by polluting surface and ground waters, exacerbating flooding, reducing biodiversity, and contributing to climate change. Moving our entire U.S. grain-fed beef production system to a grass-finished system is possible without displacing food production and under conservative soil C change estimates would result in a reduced but similar C footprint, while improving soil health, water quality, and biodiversity. More optimistic estimates for soil C accumulation indicate the system would result in significant atmospheric C drawdown. Agroecological transformation like this is limited only by our imagination and courage in policymaking that incentivizes agriculture that provides for the public good over profits for a few.