In November 2020, Audubon Dakota and partners initiated the North Dakota Conservation Forage Program (CFP) with a $6.9 million grant award from the North Dakota Industrial Commission Outdoor Heritage Fund. This grant is the largest investment in the fund’s history. The CFP will support private landowners in converting up to 25,000 acres of cropland back to native grass, while facilitating the adoption of adaptive land management to improve grassland and soil health through livestock integration. Open enrollment for CFP will begin in early summer 2021. CFP is an important part of Audubon Dakota’s goal of enhancing conservation on 1 million acres across the Dakotas by the end of 2022.
The Conservation Forage Program is a product of vital partnerships between agriculture and conservation groups. With CFP receiving support from agricultural groups like North Dakota Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, and others during the development and Outdoor Heritage Fund process, an ambitious coalition was created with extensive experience delivering working lands programming to private landowners. Conservation partners include North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, North Dakota Wildlife Federation, Delta Waterfowl, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and USFWS Partners for Wildlife Program. By building relationships across organizations, CFP will meet the collective goals of improving soil health, increasing land profitability, and supporting livestock agriculture – all while restoring biodiversity.
Through annual incentive payments for the first three years of enrollment, CFP will assist landowners with the upfront investment and provide a safety net for producers. These payments are intended to offset deferred revenue associated with converting marginal cropland back to native prairie vegetation. Additionally, financial assistance is available for native grass seed and grazing infrastructure on enrolled lands. Audubon Dakota and program partners will provide integral technical assistance to landowners to ensure successful transition of acres to productive, diverse grasslands.