Making the Most of an Opportunity

Making the Most of an Opportunity
By Karen Conley

As project partners enter the second year of The Grass is Greener on the Other Side Climate Smart grant, interest among producers is picking up, and the first bison ranch enrollments are underway.

This grant project is not what we typically think of when we hear the phrase climate smart. It’s not about LED light bulbs, fossil fuels, odd weather patterns, or recycling. This project starts from the ground up by putting land practices and hooves to work, creating a positive impact on soil, water, and air.

While visiting with producers about this grant opportunity, I often face pushback because it’s a government program. I get it; I really do. A government program or not, the money is allocated, and it’s going to be spent by someone, so why not take advantage of a program designed to do something good for you and your animals? Spend the dollars wisely, avail yourself of the technical services being offered, and make improvements that otherwise might not happen.

Our Executive Director, Jim Matheson, summed up this grant perfectly when he said it rewards bison producers for being good stewards and using bison to do what they do naturally to encourage healthy landscapes. We spend a lot of time discussing how bison are regenerative by nature, and this is the perfect platform to showcase how producers can use bison to improve and sustain a nourishing environment.

The Climate Smart project focuses on land practices, aiding producers who want to build a sustainable model. Our partner, Tanka Fund, is managing technical services and incentives for land practices like prescribed grazing, pasture/hay planting, range planting, cover crop planting, silvopasture, riparian cover, prescribed burning, and upland wildlife habitat. The NBA is doing outreach, seeking eligible producers, and initiating the enrollment process.  

Producers in the following states can participate in the Climate Smart program: SD, ND, MT, WY, MN, WI, IA, CO, KS, NE, MO, TX, OK, and NY. For producers wanting to enroll, remember that each eligible land practice will follow USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) practice standards. Each participant will enroll with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) if not enrolled. The same acres enrolled in the Climate Smart program cannot be part of a current USDA program for the same practice.

The enrollment process is simple: complete an application and a couple of authorization forms. Those wishing to apply for the prescribed grazing practice must complete a basic grazing form that meets your state NRCS requirements to qualify for the premium. If you do not have a grazing plan, the technical service providers (TSPs) with Tanka Fund will assist you in developing a qualified plan. They will also advise and assist with selecting and implementing any other practices you want to explore.

Interested producers can sign up for one year or multiple years of this five-year project, allowing them to adopt different practices or improve one area if desired. Once a practice has been selected and implemented, the only obligation is to see that practice through to the finish. Ranches of all sizes are encouraged to apply, with additional incentives being offered for HU (Historically Underserved) producers as outlined in the NRCS guidelines.

Enrolled producers can opt to do only land practices but may want to explore the option of selling their bison calves into the program through approved feeder partners. The NBA will procure a designated number of calves each year to go into the program, eventually becoming a climate smart meat product offered to consumers. Calves would be purchased directly by the feeder partner at a price agreed upon by the seller and buyer. Calves that meet the criteria set by the feeder partner could be eligible for a $100 per head premium.

This grant offers plenty of options and opportunities for financial incentives and land/animal improvement. As noted earlier, the funds are allocated and available to any eligible producer in a participating state. It’s a “use it or lose it” scenario, and you need to be the one using it!

Don’t get hung up on the climate smart moniker and lose out. This grant is about impacting the land by intentionally and purposefully utilizing techniques and animals for the betterment of all. For bison producers, it’s time to put our words into action.