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Published May 17, 2011, 10:55 AM

More grazing options for Minnesota ranchers?

Minnesota cattle producers soon could have more opportunities to graze their animals on state land.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Minnesota cattle producers soon could have more opportunities to graze their animals on state land.

As many as 57,000 acres of state land, primarily in western Minnesota, could become available for grazing, according to the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association.

“It makes sense for a lot of reasons,” Joe Martin, the association’s executive director, says of expanded grazing opportunities.

Members of his group met earlier this year with Dennis Simon, wildlife division section chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR, using preliminary data, identified about 57,000 acres of DNR land that potentially could be opened to grazing. More land could be identified later.

The DNR is optimistic about creating new relationships with ranchers to use state land efficiently and responsibly, Simon says.

But his organization has questions about such things as water supplies and fencing on state land potentially opened up for grazing, he says.

Allowing cattle on state land also could cause conflicts with public hunting on the land, he says.

“We’re going at this cautiously,” he says.

Minnesota ranchers are especially interested in new opportunities because high crop prices are encouraging ag producers to grow crops on what had been pasture land, Martin says.

“Grazing land is becoming scarce,” particularly a concern for younger people who want to enter the livestock industry, he says.

Reasons for change

Martin cites three factors that support opening up more state lands for grazing:

- A report that state lands could be managed more efficiently.

- A statewide sales tax amendment, passed by Minnesota voters in 2008, that has allowed more land to be purchased for conservation purposes.

- Research showing that grazing can improve wildlife habitat.

Martin says it’s encouraging that ranchers and DNR officials are working together to find ways of benefitting both the cattle industry and wildlife habitat management.

He’s hopeful that agreements allowing more grazing on state lands can be reached before year’s end.

Such agreements potentially could allow expanded grazing on state land as early as next year, Simon says.

Cattle producers and DNR officials will hold four or five meetings in western Minnesota this summer to discuss the issue at the local level, Martin says.

The first meeting is expected to be held in June in Thief River Falls.

Information: www.mnca.org or 651-756-7351.

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