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Farming and Ranching

FR2.1

Encourage Innovative Practices in Land Management and Energy, and Water Conservation

Learn from one another about what works

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Tool Information


Goals

  1. Conservation
  2. Stewardship
  3. Economic, Environmental, and Social Impacts

Description

This tool is about recognizing and promoting all of the innovative farming and ranching practices happening regionally that result in conservation of energy, water and the land’s natural resources.  There is no one-size fits all solution, so having a toolbox of ideas to consider is helpful.  Working with existing organizations with a conservation mission, it is important to link these resources and strategies together as an educational resource.  Creating a network of farmers and ranchers to discover what works both in terms of protecting the land, and the economics of farm and ranch businesses.  Developing a robust dialog regionally about what works and what implementation challenges are to overcome is an important aspect of this tool. 

This tool considers strategies such as:

  • Utilize conservation easements and the transfer of development rights as legal tools for innovative land management practices that support conservation
  • Establish and support innovative agricultural practices that conserve energy and water use
  • Support older and absentee land owners in land management practices to encourage continued agriculture and conservation
  • Support education and research about the impacts of rotational grazing techniques
  • Promote burning cooperatives that educate, train, and supply needed resources to support rotational and “patch” burning techniques and the implementation of flint hills smoke management plan
  • Support programs that help control invasive species
  • Support and network the farmers and ranchers who participate in such programs

Photo by USDA NRCS South Dakota 
CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie
CC  Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Background

The tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills, is vast, breathtakingly wild, and ecologically rich. This four-million-acre landscape comprises nearly 80 percent of what’s left of the world’s tallgrass prairie; only 4 percent of its historic expanse remains unplowed, undeveloped, and relatively unchanged.  The prairie stores water, nutrients, pollutants, and the sun’s nutrients, diverse organisms, and soil within vast intertwining root systems.  

Today, invasive plants, over grazing, tree encroachment, ranchette development (large homes and estates with minimal ranch activities occupying a few acres of grassland just outside of urban areas), and energy development pose serious threats to this beautiful landscape.  Protecting the Flint Hills remnant of this vanishing ecosystem is of critical importance. 

 Excessive burning methods, where all the land is burned all at once and only in the spring,  do not mimic natural burning or traditional rotational burning techniques.  A few ranchers and conservation groups are using the rotational “patch” or “mosaic” burning technique that protects wildlife while at the same time preventing invasive plant species.  By burning at different times, grasses are allowed to grow at different rates and provide more of a variety of nutrients to grazing livestock throughout the year.  

Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie
cc:  Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Additional Information

K-State Extension Specialist & Sustainable Cropping System (Professor Rhonda Janke) provides state-wide leadership in the areas of sustainable agriculture, organic farming systems, and local food production and marketing.  Her work has also included alternative crops (medicinal herbs), whole farm planning, and soil and water testing (Citizen Science).  http://www.hfrr.ksu.edu/p.aspx?tabid=407&ItemID=382&mid=1724&staff_category=Faculty

Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops support small family-owned farms in Kansas through research, education and outreach focused on production, storage, processing, and marketing technologies that will boost small farm profitability, protect natural resources, and enhance rural communities.

http://kansassustainableag.org/

The Center works with state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, environmental groups and producer organizations to assist family farmers and ranchers to boost farm profitability, protect natural resources, and enhance rural communities. Each year, Kansas is eligible to receive funds from the North Central Region SARE (NCR-SARE) for professional development programming for the target audiences.

http://www.kansassare.org/p.aspx

The Nature Conservancy has information about conservation easements. The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area will help private landowners conserve habitat for more than 100 species of grassland birds and 500 plant species, and it will help to ensure the region’s sustainable ranching culture. Conservation easements are binding legal agreements that typically prohibit fragmenting activities, such as subdivision and commercial development, but allow for continued livestock grazing and haying. Under conservation easements, landownership and property rights, including control of public access, remain with participating landowners; and participating properties remain on local tax rolls.

http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/kansas/flint-hills-ranching-to-save-the-tallgrass-prairie.xml

No-till on the Plains provides information on economically sound, agronomically superior and environmentally safer agricultural systems of producing food, fiber and fuels. The organization strictly adheres to its commitment of teaching a consistent message which is comprised of several key components including high-quality continuous no-tillage with invisible sowing methods, undisturbed previous crop residue or growing a living mulch between cash crops, diverse crop rotations along with planned, managed grazing of livestock.

Our focus is to educate those interested in regenerating the soil, thus allowing the land to return to a more natural state. By emulating the systems of nature, producers revive the efficiency of their soils by improving its properties. Soil organic matter, microbial life, soil aggregation, water-holding capacity and effectiveness of an properly-functioning water cycle all improve and are the results of building a healthy ecosystem which is modeled from nature. This system all but eliminates soil erosion and builds soil health.

http://www.notill.org/

Kansas Graziers Association is a grassroots organization administered by farmers and ranchers and is dedicated to the continuing improvement of the profitability and quality of life of livestock producers.

KGA started in January 2000 in an effort to link the grazing clusters of the Heartland Network together, by coordinating and promoting educational activities about year-round grazing using advanced techniques and forages. Seeking to link the grazing clusters of the Heartland Network together, the association holds a one-day winter grazing conference and summer grazing tours.

http://kansasgraziers.blogspot.com/

Implementation Strategy


Champions and Partners

  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
  • Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops
  • Kansas State University Agronomy Research, Water and Energy Progress Steering Committee
  • US Army, Ft. Riley
  • Kansas Rural Center
  • Kansas Dept. of Agriculture, Division of Conservation
  • Protect the Flint Hills
  • Kansas State University Horticulture, Forestry & Recreation
  • Ferrell Ranch
  • South Wind Ranch, LLC
  • Extension Services
  • USDA
  • WSU
  • Kansas Graziers Association
  • No Till on the Plains
  • Water and Energy Progress

Timeframe

Short (1-3 years)

Cost

$

Cost Details

  • Staff for research and outreach
  • Host an online network and website
  • Host regular networking and education opportunities

Funding Sources

  • Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops Grants
  • USDA grants

Implementation Details

A brief outline of the first few steps necessary for implementation are provided. The steps outlined here are provided only as a suggested starting point and other approaches are certainly valid.

  • Identify a convening regional organization and provide the necessary staff for research and outreach
  • Conduct research and outreach
  • Form and maintain a network of regional farmer and ranchers with interest in innovative practices
  • Host regular networking and education opportunities

Case Study


The Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Prairie Restoration in Missouri

Located in northwest Missouri, Dunn Ranch is a 70,000 acre showcase for grassland restoration.  Nearly 1000 acres have never been plowed and have top soils that is 40 inches deep in most places. 

To return the prairie to its original splendor, Dunn Ranch staff removed hundreds of trees, established a seed nursery and processing facility, and protected surrounding acres through direct purchase and conservation easements. Native seed harvesting and reseeding are conducted annually. Bison were reintroduced to the site in 2011; their selective grazing benefits other native plants and animals. Controlled burns are also an important management tool, as they safely replicate fire cycles that were historically present on the prairie. Today, species that were previously unknown at the site have emerged, such as sensitive briar, shooting star, and eared false foxglove. Dunn Ranch Prairie is home to one of the last populations of greater prairie chickens in Missouri, and the federally endangered Topeka shiner.  

Additional Resources:

http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/missouri/dunn-ranch-flyer.pdf

http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/missouri/explore/dunn-ranch-prairie-restoration.xml

Photo by USFWSmidwest
cc:  Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Relevance

While Dunn Ranch is a deep soil prairie, the rotational grazing, burning and native seed and habitat restoration work, control of invasive species and cooperation with connected land owners who wish to protect their land with conservation easements are examples that are replicable in the Flint Hills.