Promote ranching practices that are sustainable and increase profitability
Our members understand that grass is their crop and that livestock are the way they harvest it. Management that promotes healthy grasslands increases livestock gain and soil health. Diverse native grassland communities help reduce the effects of drought, and often require fewer inputs of insecticides and herbicides by keeping the ecological system intact. A healthy functioning ecosystem balances the void that often occurs when managers treat symptoms instead of the cause of problems like weeds or low production.
At a time of high land prices, rather than trying to buy more land, think about how you can increase the efficiency and profitability of the acres you already own.
Enhance water quality and reduce runoff into our streams and lakes
Healthy grasslands have diverse native grasses and forbs as well as healthy living soil that when put together create spectacular avenues for infiltration. Increased infiltration means less runoff that contributes to flooding and pollution. What little water does run off a healthy pasture is essentially free of nitrogen, phosphorous, suspended solids like soil particles, and harmful chemicals.
Conserving grasslands and managing them for diversity and soil health is one of the most effective ways to improve water quality and reducing flooding in South Dakota.
Increase the abundance of wildlife
Healthy native grasslands are perhaps the most important wildlife habitat in South Dakota. Unfortunately, in South Dakota we are losing up to 100,000 acres of grassland per year to row crop production and urban sprawl. The native tall grass prairie of North America is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the world. Grassland birds are declining faster than any other group of birds on our continent. Healthy grasslands are vital habitat for waterfowl and upland game birds like pheasants, which have a huge impact on South Dakota’s economy.
Abundant wildlife and South Dakota are synonymous to many people. Healthy and diverse grasslands are the key to conserving this abundance.
Preserve our small towns and the ranching economy
Small towns and rural communities all over the Midwest have declined rapidly over the last 50 years. In South Dakota 60 out of our 66 counties declined in population between the 2000 and 2010 census. Ranches and farms with diversified systems and enterprises are the only way that the next generation of ranch and farm families are going to be able to stay on the land. An operation that includes multiple enterprises allows for multiple managers and abilities to support multiple families. Gone are the days where “the farm” or “the ranch” is going to support mom, dad, son, and/or daughter. It has to become a business offering multiple functions on the same piece of land rather than the same function on more land, because the availability of those extra acres is becoming harder and harder to come by. Diversified operations with multiple enterprises allows for the business to draw profits from different areas and thus makes the business model much more stable. It also ups our profits per acre of land operated. Doing more with what we have rather than needing more to do more. Evaluating every acre and using it in the best possible way is key. For the SDGC we believe that means to get more grass on the ground in areas that more suited for grass than row crops. Then, operators must manage that grass in a way that increases diversity of plants, ability to graze cattle, healthy watersheds, and a functioning ecosystem for wildlife. This is critical because to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, ‘the country that destroys its land destroys itself.
Diversifying land use and making land use more profitable while increasing the health of the ecosystem is the best way to preserve our rural communities.