Tour shows policymakers the importance of grazing and grasslands
WING, N.D. — Standing in a pasture west of Wing, N.D., Darrell Oswald explained the benefits of farming and ranching in northeastern Burleigh County.
"We do have great grass," he said. "That's where our profit comes from."
The grass is what brought a large group of conservation groups and state and federal government officials to Oswald Ranch on Tuesday, Aug. 28, as part of the North Dakota Grasslands Policy Tour and Workshop.
The workshop, organized by the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture and the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, sought to provide information about policies that have helped ranchers use and learn about conservation practices.
"We brought policy makers, conservation organizations, private landowners together to really understand how grass-based agriculture can benefit not only the bottom line of farmers and ranchers but also benefit wildlife systems and migratory birds," said Sean Fields, the science coordinator and acting coordinator for the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture.
The Prairie Pothole Joint Venture is a partnership of federal and state government agencies and non-government wildlife and conservation agencies that seeks to protect, restore and enhance wetland and grassland habitat to sustain migratory birds across the Prairie Pothole region of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.
In order to enhance policy that could help migratory birds, Fields said it's important to get input from all stakeholders.
"We want to hear from the ranchers. We want to hear from the policy makers. We want to continue that dialogue," Fields said.
Policy makers at the tour included members of the North Dakota Public Service Commission as well as North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
"It's just fantastic to have people coming together and learning, learning about soil health, learning about best practices and giving people a chance to talk to each other as opposed to talk about each other," Burgum said.
At the Oswald Ranch, Oswald showed off his pasture, where he uses an "intensive managed adaptive grazing system." He said he started "down the soil health road around 2006," and has seen benefits in soil health, wildlife and profitability.
Oswald also took visitors to a cover crop field of 12 species planted July 12 that will be used for grazing this fall and winter. He said he thinks providing financial incentives can help get "people's foot in the door" to consider conservation practices.
"Along with that, we need to educate them to keep further them, going down the road to soil health," he said.
Oswald showed and explained how his grazing management system has cut back drastically on winter feed costs, improved soil quality and attracted wildlife to the land. He explained how he handles things like fencing and water and said he's likely to incorporate sheep into the grazing system soon.
He also covered the peer pressure that can keep farmers and ranchers from trying things like cover crops and managed grazing.
"You can face a lot of pressure from others," he told the crowd. "That can wear on you."
Following Oswald Ranch, the tour went to Black Leg Ranch near Menoken, N.D., and the next day held a panel discussion on what is working for agriculture and wildlife, Fields said.
He said policies that help advance the goals both of agriculture and conservation include programs in Title II of the farm bill, including Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Burgum said policies to improve the land in North Dakota are important for the future of the state.
"Soil is a resource that can be depleted, and I think there's an important discussion going on today about soil health and what we can do both in terms of best practices when we're farming and ranching, both production agriculture and on grasslands, but also what can we do from a policy standpoint," Burgum said.
He said the state has 30,000 open jobs, and attracting people to or getting them to stay in North Dakota will require keeping it a great place to live.
"One way we do that is taking great care of land," he said.
Oswald agrees. He has two young daughters who he hopes will come back to the ranch when they are grown. By taking care of the soil and keeping the ranch sustainable both in terms of finances and the environment, he believes it will be better for future generations of ranchers.
"It's not a perfect model. But it's a way forward that we think is good for the long term and for our kids," he said.