Thanks to Joshua Dukart, Executive Director of the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, and Kenneth Miller, rancher and former NDGLC chair, for this article. They share how their community of ranchers is working together to help everyone be successful.
The North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition was established in 1996 by a grassroots based group of grazing managers who believed in not only protecting our grazing resource, but also in regenerating it over time. In addition to establishing a Coalition, these producers also felt strongly about the progress they had made through changes in their grazing management and wanted to share these experiences and outcomes with others. They felt their successes and failures could be important learning tools for others looking to improve management of not only their grazing lands, but of their ranching businesses as a whole. Therefore, the mentoring network, made up of North Dakota grazing land managers, was born. These producers, who are scattered throughout the state, have agreed to provide one-on-one guidance and council to interested ranchers, farmers, agency personnel, industry specialists, and all other resource managers and consumers.
Advice the mentors provide is based upon knowledge and experience gained on their own operations and the interaction they have with other ranchers across the state and nation. These mentors are available to discuss a number of topics including holistic goal setting/decision making, monitoring, economics, water developments, livestock as a tool, wildlife, cover crops, grass finishing, winter grazing strategies, and much more. Knowing that no two ranches are alike, mentors encourage producers to adapt what they may learn and apply the concepts according to their own goals, resources, and management abilities.
The educational activities developed by the mentorship program focus on holistic, sustainable resource management principles that improve diversity and health in the entire ecosystem. The whole-farm approach benefits each of the natural resource components (grassland, cropland, livestock, wildlife, soil, water) and producers who are the stewards of the system. The process focuses on optimizing the use of available resources to protect and improve the environment, improve productivity and health of the system, and provide more profit, quality of life, and sustainability for producers and their families. Participants can utilize the knowledge gained from these educational activities to promote this program to other producers. These concepts and methods could easily be transferred to any area of North Dakota and/or the northern plains.
The primary beneficiaries of the mentorship program are the producers who receive the training and ultimately implement these practices on their farms and ranches. There is also a related benefit to the natural resources of their system. In addition, students, organizations and agency personnel who are recipients of these management concepts will have the opportunity to share this further with the operations and industry professionals they encounter.
Many of the activities in this program are conducted within the state of North Dakota. However, mentors are also involved in educational activities in surrounding states in our region. Lastly, this program encourages the addition of new mentors who will be needed as the program expands across the region.
The most important component of this program is incorporating innovative producers as educators and mentors to provide on-site, one-on-one assistance to producers who are attempting to implement what they have seen and learned from the educational components provided by the Coalition. Utilizing the expertise and experience of ranchers/mentors for one-on-one consultation is a tremendous asset because they provide credibility and availability when the tough questions are asked. Most producers want to see it before they can begin to believe it or accept it. These mentors have the innovative ideas, real farm statistics, on-farm examples, and years of experience to support what they are teaching. They realize every ranch or farm is unique unto itself, and they provide their network of experience to sort through the various options that producers examine before they come up with the strategies that will work for their own system. This program provides the one-two punch of classroom/field education followed by one-on-one and on-the-ground mentor training and support.
Another component of this program is the inclusion of agricultural lenders, often overlooked important stakeholders in the process of change. Because of their partnership, their one-on-one work with producers, and their relationship to community, they are positive, supportive promoters of the activities and merits of this program. They provide a direct link to the economic viability and financial stability of our local communities.
In recent years the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition has continued to add additional mentors to the network as more of the focus has steered in the direction of soil health, holistic management, and providing opportunities for young producers and their families. As the mentors approach each opportunity to work with another rancher, the whole ranch planning concept comes to life, as there are many variables that warrant consideration. This includes quality of life for family and employees, financial stability and security, and use and regeneration of resources, most notably the land and its soils.
The North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition looks each year to further their mission and vision within the state of North Dakota through its mentoring network. As these mentoring ranchers stay on the cutting edge of land and livestock management, the Coalition provides the platform for the sharing of knowledge and experiences to enhance the agriculture community and its land based resources. All participants who utilize the mentoring program, whether it be classroom workshops, hands-on field tours, or one-on-one assistance, will receive a unique experience of learning from those who practice what they preach!
Do you have a mentoring program, stories or needs? Share them with us!