FARGO — A $7 million grant to Audubon Dakota may soon turn underperforming farmland back to it's prairie roots.
Up to 30,000 acres across the state will soon be home to restored grassland forage that eventually will see cattle grazing.
"We will provide an incentive payment for landowners who want to transition low-performing marginal cropland back to grass habitat," explained Audubon Dakota executive director Marshall Johnson.
Johnson worked closely with farm and wildlife groups over the past few years to hammer out the details of the North Dakota Conservation Forage Program. The $7 million grant from the state's Industrial Commission Outdoor Heritage Fund means money will go to pay enrolled landowners to transition their marginal cropland back into prairie.
"We had to compromise and we met in the middle, which is a win-win for conservation and agriculture," Johnson said.
For the first three years, farmers will keep cattle off the land, giving the prairie time to regenerate.
"It is a delicate time for grassland establishment and to get the best stand of grass, you let it sit and manage the weeds and then incorporate livestock management," Johnson said.
Daryl Lies, President of North Dakota Farm Bureau, farms near Douglas, North Dakota. He sees the program as beneficial for both farmers and the environment.
"It moves us in the direction of true innovation, keeping the working land working, knowing we can provide something for wildlife and those who enjoy driving in the countryside and seeing all the great things we see and sometimes take for granted as farmers and ranchers," Lies said.
There are 500 farmers expected to be a part of the program. The Audubon Dakota program is scheduled to launch in the spring of 2021.