Roundup Record Tribune & Winnett Times -

Winnett ACES: Grassbanking and Rural Communities

 

January 1, 2020

Glen Gillett

"Always remember someone's effort is a reflection of their interest in you."

In the last three years, Winnett ACES (Agricultural Community Enhancement and Sustainability) members have volunteered approximately 4,000 hours toward projects to strengthen their community. Their effort reflects their interest in the Winnett community, rural Montana, and the beef industry.

The journey began three years ago, in November of 2016, when several Winnett area producers gathered together to discuss the future of our community and what we could do to strengthen a place that we already love. Each of us thinks that we're the luckiest people alive to live in the place that we do and to have the neighbors who make our community possible. ACES board member, Chris King, says, "Rather than be a passive observer to the decay of rural America, why not come together as a community and see if there aren't things that we can do to direct our future a little bit?"

We chose four directions: 1. Access to grazing land, especially for beginning and transitioning ranchers. 2. Education for producers. 3. Education about the beef industry for the public. 4. Community resilience. Find out more on our website: winnettaces.org.

Our journey has taken us down several bumpy roads, perhaps given us a few flat tires, but we refuel and keep driving. We don't have a road map, and we don't know if we're headed in the right direction, but we're seeing positive results as we go.

While we're busy crisscrossing the country on these roads, we focused mainly on opening doors to accessing grazing leases for young producers through creating a grassbank. A grassbank is a piece of land where grass is leased to multiple ranchers, who can earn a reduced grazing fee through implementing stewardship practices.

In late 2018, ACES got the exciting opportunity to test-run the grassbank idea when member Gary Eliasson offered to sublease one of his leases to ACES. This generous offer not only gave ACES the chance to try out the grassbank idea, but it also resulted in six young producers having access to grazing for 2019. The ranch is set up beautifully to run cattle in a few different herds, so ACES broke the producers into three separate herds based on type of animals (pairs or yearlings) and bull preferences. Gary volunteered his time to direct the operation – his effort is a reflection of his interest in family agriculture surviving in central Montana. The NRCS developed a grazing rotation for each herd. Producers spent one workday together at the beginning of the grazing season and then communicated with each other about when moves were necessary, when to put out mineral, check water, etc.

The six producers came from Petroleum and Musselshell Counties. In reflecting on the benefits of the grassbank, they expressed the obvious benefits of grazing, but also the benefit of meeting new people, extending their networks, and learning from each other.

By all accounts, the 2019 grassbank experiment was a success. This is a model that can work to benefit family agriculture, the land that supports us all, and the communities to which we belong.

Glen Gillett

So, where are we now? We are moving forward in trying to purchase property. We all know that land is priced too high for agriculture alone to pay – since the 1970s, land in our area has increased in price by nine times while cattle prices have only increased three times. Winnett ACES decided to become a non-profit because our broad mission includes community development, land stewardship, and education. This also allows us to compete for grants and to be able to accept tax-deductible donations from people who believe in supporting family agriculture, stewardship of the land, and rural communities.

During this time of year for expressing gratitude, we are truly grateful to all who we have encountered on our journey and hope that this journey will continue long into the future.

"We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don't overlook it." - unknown

* If you would like to find out more, please contact the Winnett ACES Coordinator, Brent Smith, at [email protected] or 406-599-5120.

 

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