The South Dakota Grasslands Coalition's aim is to "voluntarily improve grasslands for the long-term needs of the resources and its populations." To help achieve this goal, for the past five years, the coalition has sponsored a grazing tour around the state to showcase how grassland management can be incorporated into successful working operations. Through careful management and planning, these operations work to improve wildlife habitats and native ranges.

The 2006 tour, held July 18-19, was based in Watertown, and showcased a few of the successful grasslands operations in northeast South Dakota. The tour included 67 producers from around the state, and stopped at two grassland management operations and viewed a joint project between the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and private area landowners.

The first operation, owned and managed by Neil Bien, a fourth-generation rancher, consists of 2,300 acres of grassland. He's restored 15 wetlands on his ranch and saved 100 more. And, Bien says his cows keep gaining weight grazing because, "by keeping the plant in a vegetative state you keep the protein and palatability up."

During the second day at the TNC near Clear Lake, manager Pete Bauman told of how prescribed burning, in the right conditions, increases biodiversity on the pasture and improves grassland health. "Burning can be effective over time," Bauman adds. "Burning with a good grazing program has been shown to stimulate better pasture health." TNC partners with local producers to work on improving grasslands and wildlife habitats.

The third stop featured the 2005 Society for Ranch Management's Excellence in Range Management Award winner, Rick Smith, who is widely recognized for his innovative grazing techniques. Smith showed the effects of a fertilization experiment, which studied the benefits of nitrogen fertilization on pastures, amounts and the effect of different grazing techniques on grass growth.

For more info about grassland management or the Coalition, visit www.sdgrass.org.
-- Stephanie Veldman