As a landowner, if you want to implement a planned rotational grazing system on your ranch, or are interested in cross-fencing, water development or other grazing improvements for your pastures, where do you go for information or assistance? State grassland coalitions are hoping landowners will turn to them.
More than 30 state coalitions exist as the workhorses behind the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI), a national effort established in 1991 to garner more support for voluntary grazing lands expertise to private landowners. Made up of industry partners from state livestock, conservation and environmental organizations, as well as state and federal natural resource and agriculture agencies, each state coalition strives to provide voluntary technical assistance at the grass-roots level.
The coalitions host educational grazing workshops, tours, newsletters and forage demonstration sites. They also lobby for funding for trained grazing specialists — primarily on Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) staffs — devoted to assisting land managers implement sound grazing practices.
“Bottom line is we are here to help,” says Justin “Judge” Jessop of the technical grazing assistance offered by the network of state grazing coalitions.
South Dakota success
Jessop, who represents the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition, reports that efforts in his state over the past five years include establishing six grazing demonstration sites at working ranches across South Dakota, as well as hosting numerous tours and training sessions to inform private landowners about grazing management strategies. But he says the coalition's real strength is the one-on-one technical assistance it provides landowners seeking grazing expertise.
One such example is longtime South Dakota Hereford breeder Vern Rausch who turned to the South Dakota Grassland Coalition two summers ago when a dugout with poor water quality was sickening his cattle. After a few head died from the bad water, Rausch, who ranches with his brother Jerry and son Shannon, knew he had an emergency on his hands; he needed to develop water pipelines to bring in better water.
To qualify for cost-share assistance for the pipeline project, however, Rausch found he would need an entire rotational grazing plan. So, he worked with Jessop and NRCS rangeland specialists to develop an overall grazing management ranch plan that included water development, cross-fencing and rotational grazing. As a result, he was able to qualify for an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract administered through NRCS to assist in paying for a portion of the improvements.
To date, the Rausches have laid nearly eight miles of polyethylene pipe for their summer grazing program. It will include 17 tanks and miles of cross-fencing.
While the EQIP contract gives them 10 years to complete the improvements, Rausch says they'll likely implement all practices much sooner because of the benefit to his land and cattle. He says, “I wish I would have done this 20 years ago.”
Success stories abound
Numerous other states relate similar success stories of the efforts by their grazing land coalitions.
In North Dakota, a Grazing Management Network allows producers to call on 15 experienced ranchers and land managers for insight and ideas about grassland management.
In Wisconsin, “Pasture Walks” are hosted across the state to showcase different producers' grazing management programs and help others learn from those examples.
Several states have added grazing specialists to their state NRCS staffs in the past five to seven years as a result of state and national GLCI efforts.
In Montana, where the national GLCI effort was established nearly 15 years ago, support for private grazinglands technical assistance hasn't ceased. Carla Lawrence, who serves as a partnership grazing lands coordinator for the state through NRCS, reports the Montana GLCI recently reinvigorated its commitment with a new campaign entitled, “Cowboy Up with Conservation: It can save your grass.”
Of the new campaign, Lawrence says, “Our state committee determined they wanted to brand the Montana GLCI and continue to increase awareness of the grazing assistance available to private landowners.”
To that end, the “Cowboy Up” tagline and logo were developed, along with an information-filled conservation packet that landowners can request. It includes publications on grazing research, Montana success stories, range plant identification and a complete list of people resources in the state for technical grazing assistance. Jon Chandler, an author, singer and ardent supporter of conservation issues, was also tapped as a special spokesperson for radio and TV ads to promote the revised program.
The updated Montana GLCI program debuted last December at the Montana Stockgrowers Association annual meeting with great success. “We've created some new enthusiasm,” Lawrence says, with more than 250 requests for the “Cowboy Up” conservation packets.
Along with that, Montana continues to fund grazing-related research demos at ranches and host tours to showcase grazing management practices. It's even developed a special curriculum for schools to bring grazing education to elementary students in the state.
Looking to the future
In South Dakota, Jessop says their coalition's goal is to continue offering technical assistance to private landowners who seek it.
“It's a win-win for the natural resources and landowners,” he says, adding South Dakota may develop a conservation packet similar to Montana's in order to create more awareness of GLCI efforts and deliver more resources to landowners.
In Nebraska, state grazing lands coordinator Roger Chesley reports they're also planning for the future. This spring, the state coalition hosted the Nebraska Grassland Summit, which brought together many industry and environmental organizations within the state to identify private grazing land concerns, priorities and potential solutions.
Among the participants were representatives of the Sierra Club and Audubon Society, along with traditional livestock groups.
“It was pretty amazing that everyone's concerns about the land were similar,” Chesley says.
Issues such as control of invasive species, promoting diversity in vegetative species population and water topped the list of concerns identified for the Nebraska Grazing Land Coalition for further effort.
“From our state summit, we now know our concerns are the same, and perhaps we can work together to address these issues for the future benefit of private grazing lands,” he says.
For more on GLCI and assistance offered by state grassland coalitions, visit www.glci.org.
Established in 1991, the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) is a national, voluntary effort aimed at assisting land managers maintain and improve the productivity and health of America's privately-owned grazing land.
Nine member organizations support GLCI on a national level — the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Forage and Grassland Council, American Sheep Industry, Dairy Industry, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Farmers Union, Society for Range Management and the Soil and Water Conservation Society.
GLCI was formed at a June 1991 meeting in Bozeman, MT, when a group of concerned state and national agricultural, conservation, wildlife and scientific organizations gathered to discuss the declining level of technical assistance provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to owners and managers of private grazing lands. There was concern the 1985 and 1990 farm bills redirected NRCS's major focus toward conservation planning and compliance on highly erodible cropland, while conservation planning on grazing land dwindled to only about 2% of the NRCS budget.
With grazing land comprising the largest single land use of all privately owned land in the U.S. (and nearly half of U.S. non-federal land), the groups advocated that private landowners needed access to information and technical assistance to ensure the long-term viability of grazing lands. Since 1991, GLCI has strived to make voluntary technical assistance — primarily through NRCS personnel — available to private landowners. It's also lobbied for funds to expand grazing management research and education.
GLCI's Third National Conference on Grazing Lands is Dec. 10-13, 2006, in St. Louis, MO. For more information, contact conference manager John Peterson at 703/455-6886 or [email protected].