Building a Restoration Economy in the Verde Watershed
The Verde Native Seed Cooperative (the Co-op) is a collective of buyers and growers of native plant materials consisting of local non-profit organizations, federal and state agencies, tribal nations, municipalities, regional farmers and plant nurseries, universities, and environmental consulting companies. These stakeholders are working together to identify and produce appropriate native plant materials in the Arizona/ New Mexico Mountains and Sonoran Desert Ecoregions for public land restoration projects, municipal parks, and pollinator conservation.
What We Do
The Co-op is working to meet the demand for local native seed and plants in the Verde River Watershed while diversifying income for agricultural producers in the region. This effort was created to reduce duplication, streamline distribution, and benefit from economies of scale. Coordinated production is expected to increase the availability and diversity of plant materials, stimulate the regional native seed industry, stabilize the seed market, reduce restoration costs, and ultimately improve restoration success. We aim to reliably produce, clean, store, and deliver enough native plants and weed-free seeds to meet the demand for regional projects.
Why We Do It
Native plant and seed production by the Co-op will help continue the work that VWRC has already begun engage diverse stakeholders, members of the local community, enhance stewardship, reduce consumption of the Verde River and its tributaries as and build a healthy watershed through successful ecological restoration. This effort creates employment, stimulates local businesses, develops a skilled workforce and increases economic growth in our local economy. This emerging restoration economy places emphasis on stewardship activities in our watershed, which is a departure from the historically extractive economies of the past.
Why grow native crops?
Demand for the Verde River is increasing, and that means potential for declining flows. Transitioning some farmland and pasture to native crops could help preserve river flows. Pastureland uses 6.2 million acre-feet of water and non-alfalfa hay uses 5.5 million acre-feet per year and are the second and fourth highest water use crops in the U.S. after rice.1 Research shows that perennial grasses help extend the grazing season and expand foraging opportunities for wildlife. Once established, they are more effective at stabilizing surface and sub-soils, they retain nutrients and recycle them more efficiently than annuals, thus building soil organic matter, increasing the fertility of the soil and sustaining productivity overall.2 Farmed alfalfa, for example, requires consistent irrigation, while perennial native grasses are adapted to drought conditions and develop extensive roots (up to three feet deep) that can access ground water when surface water is not available.3 Studies comparing native plants to turfgrass showed a 60% decrease in water use after establishment.4 A mix of buffalo and gramma grass used 47% less water than alfalfa.5 The Co-op is piloting native crops for seed production with local growers and the town of Camp Verde to help keep more water flowing in the Verde and its tributaries, and reduce groundwater.
2 Menke, J. (1992). Grazing and fire management for native perennial grass restoration in California grasslands . FREMONTIA: A Journal of the California Native Plant Society, 1992, Vol. 20(2):22-25 Retrieved from http://ucanr.org/sites/sccNew/files/51815.pdf
5 Journal of Agricultural Research: Volume 3, January 1, 1915. U.S. Government Printing Office