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SDSU receives historic grant for climate friendly livestock commodities

Zach Ducheneaux, USDA's Farm Service Agency administrator, speaks during the announcement of SDSU's $80 million grant from the USDA Sept. 16.
Jordan Rusche
Zach Ducheneaux, USDA's Farm Service Agency administrator, speaks during the announcement of SDSU's $80 million grant from the USDA Sept. 16.

South Dakota State University announced it will receive up to $80 million for a research project as part of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Initiative with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is the largest grant ever received by the university.

The Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Initiative is meant to support farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners in adopting environmentally conscious production practices and other climate-smart projects. SDSU is one of 70 total projects funded by this initiative.

SDSU’s project, titled “The Grass is Greener on the Other Side: Developing Climate-Smart Beef and Bison Commodities,” will be led by West River Research and Extension Director Kristi Cammack, along with her team of researchers.

"As a team, we look forward to working towards a common goal of sustainability of agriculture for generations to come,” she said at the announcement of the grant Sept. 16. “We are honored to be part of this historic time in U.S. agriculture.”

The project aims to support producer implementation of climate-smart practices, especially underrepresented and tribal producers, monitor and verify the effects of these practices on participating operations and develop market opportunities for beef and bison products raised under climate-friendly conditions.

Zach Ducheneaux, an administrator for USDA’s Farm Service Agency, was another one of the speakers at the announcement. He said studying the impacts of how raising animals can impact the environment and climate now could shape future research projects.

“These climate-friendly, incentive, voluntary programs are really going to be the key to driving innovation and ensuring that we’re doing our part to leave it better than we found it,” Ducheneaux said.

Some major partners on the project include Millborn Seeds, Buffalo Ridge Cattle Company, AgSpire, Tanka Fund, the National Bison Association, Texas A&M University and others.

Jared Knock, who oversees special projects for Millborn Seeds, said the company will be distributing five specialty grains and seeds like flax, buckwheat, and rye to livestock producers that are or used to be commonly grown in South Dakota.

"A big part of our contribution is offering access to seeds that can be used to increase forage, whether that be hay, or re-diversifying native grasslands or planting cover crops as part of a crop rotation that feeds livestock,” Knock said.

Other speakers at the event included SDSU President Barry Dunn, Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, USDA’s Risk Management Agency Administrator Marcia Bunger and SDSU’s Vice President for Research and Economic Development Daniel Scholl.

Other options for more climate-friendly livestock operations are being explored elsewhere. More ranchers and farmers are implementing rotational grazing into their production to decrease methane emissions and improve soil and plant health by letting livestock move freely from pasture to pasture.

"If a producer has a set up that is conducive to that, that’s really a great opportunity,” he said.

Some producers are also using electric fencing by fitting cattle with shock collars, allowing producers to guide the herd’s grazing without the need for physical fences and making rotational grazing easier.

Ducheneaux is also a proponent of increasing bison production in South Dakota. SDSU’s grant will help further develop the market for bison products in the state.

“That’s going to drive more producers to really consider that choice,” he said. “We hope we’ll get a lot of innovation from this grant and others to really empower those folks to consider bison as an alternative.”

The final funding total for SDSU will be announced in the coming months.

Jordan is a senior English and journalism major at SDSU in Brookings. She is from De Smet, South Dakota. She is based out of the Sioux Falls studio.