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South Dakota-led beef and bison project among many climate-smart ag initiatives funded by USDA

As part of nearly $3 billion in funding announcements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will put about $80 million in a South Dakota State University-led program for beef and bison producers.

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Bison and beef cattle producers will be able to participate in a climate-smart agriculture program led by South Dakota State University.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
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One of the huge climate-smart agriculture grants recently announced by the federal government will go to help beef and bison producers be more sustainable and will be led by South Dakota State University.

As part of nearly $3 billion in funding announcements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will put about $80 million over five years into the SDSU led project, called The Grass is Greener on the Other Side: Developing Climate-Smart Beef and Bison Commodities.

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Kristi Cammack, South Dakota State University
South Dakota State University

“We know that a lot of farmers and ranchers already do what would be considered climate-smart practices, like cover crop grazing, rotational grazing, planting pasture,” said Kristi Cammack, who is director of the SDSU West River Research and Extension Center based in Rapid City, South Dakota.

That said, Cammack said the, program will have three basic goals:

  • Reward producers who already are using climate-smart practices.
  • Help ranchers who haven't yet adopted those practices put them into place.
  • Create more market demand for products raised through climate-smart ag.

“So we know that consumers and a lot of industry are really interested in knowing where their food and fiber comes from, and so we're helping our farmers and ranchers to implement practices that would be sustainable and considered climate smart to help create this market and align them with consumers that are interested in purchasing those products, ultimately, for a premium,” Cammack said.

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One of many projects

Other climate-smart projects announced on Sept. 14 and funded by USDA include:

Crops: $95 million for the Midwest Climate-Smart Commodity Program, led by the Iowa Soybean Association. It is intended to help corn, soybean and wheat growers reduce carbon emissions and quantify those reductions.

Renewable fuel: $30 million for the GEVO Climate-Smart Farm-to-Flight Program. Colorado-based GEVO is working on renewable jet fuel at its Luverne, Minnesota, plant and just broke ground on a plant at Lake Preston in eastern South Dakota.

Pork: $20 million for the National Pork Board's Advancing US Pork Sustainability and Market Value Proposal. The goal is to increase the sustainability of pork products through climate-smart agriculture practices within the feed supply chain, with a focus on Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.

Organic ag: $25 million to Wisconsin-based co-op Organic Valley for its carbon insetting program, which is designed to help small farms implement climate-smart practices. Organic Valley has members in 34 states with an emphasis on dairy and eggs.

Getting started

For the SDSU-led project, Cammack said that consumer component would come in toward the end of the five-year grant period.

First will be working with USDA and the other partners in the grant to figure out how the project will work and reach out to producers.

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Those partners extend to Texas A&M University, and include the Millborn Seeds in Brookings, South Dakota, Buffalo Ridge Cattle Company in Elkton, South Dakota, and the Tanka Fund, based in Kyle, South Dakota, with the mission of returning bison to 1 million acres of land.

“A lot of this can be done nationwide, but we have target areas in South Dakota, northern Great Plains, and then I believe we have about a 13 state coverage that we're looking at targeting,” Cammack said.

The project also will build on the work of another partner, the Center for Excellence for Bison Studies, which is based at the SDSU’s West River research site.

It was established in 2020 as a partnership between SDSU, the National Buffalo Foundation and the National Bison Association. It is helping fund research at multiple universities, nonprofits and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

“They range to anything from bison health to bison in the ecosystem to bison production, as well as bison on tribal lands,” Cammack said.

Cammack said she expects that a lot of the $80 million in USDA funding will be passed on directly to producers, but there will be a need for more staff and technology to help measure results of positive effects on the environment, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the project is still in its early stages and Cammack said producers may find their way into the project from one of its many partners, possibly in the spring of 2023.

“I think it's going to be pretty quick and we'll be making sure to get the information out to a lot of different places that producers know how they can apply for the program,” Cammack said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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