HURON – Partners in a new regenerative agriculture demonstration farm being established on 310 acres south of Huron want to illustrate the benefits of soil health practices on cropland that landowners may not have tried, the organizations two leaders said Tuesday.
Ducks Unlimited Chief Executive Officer Adam Putnam and Beadle Conservation District Chairman Craig Rearick signed a memorandum of understanding as representatives of other project partners looked on.
They include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department and the Natural Resources and Conservation Service.
Ducks Unlimited and conservation districts were born out of the crisis of the 1930s Dust Bowl days, Putnam, a former congressman from Florida, said.
“It was a time when the landscape looked a lot different than it does today, he said.
“But there’s no guarantee that it won’t one day be back into that drought cycle,” Putnam said. “We’ve all either lived long enough or heard enough stories to know that ducks come in cycles, and weather comes in cycles and rainy seasons come in cycles.”
With record rain this year, it was a good time for ducks and a tough time for farmers, he said. But that can quickly change. The mission for all conservation groups is to manage both extremes.
Putnam has a long history of public service. He served five terms in Congress and from 2011 to 2019 was Florida’s commissioner of agriculture. He lost the Republican primary for governor in 2018.
“Regenerative agriculture brings conservation and agriculture together to benefit both a producer’s operation and wildlife,” Putnam said.
“The Beadle County farm will demonstrate soil health practices landowners may not have tried,” he said. “We hope the farm will help us refine these management tools and reduce the producer’s risk for adapting the practices by allowing them to observe and learn before they try them.”
The farm is located on what’s known as the Baum property three miles south of Huron. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service holds easements on the wetlands, the state Game, Fish and Parks Department administers agreements that keep the land open for public hunting access and the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical and financial assistance for habitat restoration, capital improvements and ongoing management.
The purchase of the land will be financed through private philanthropy and public grants. Beadle Conservation District will own the property and it will be managed by a steering committee with representatives from Ducks Unlimited, NRCS and Beadle Conservation District.
Speaking on behalf of the conservation district board, Rearick said “we are excited about the possibility and the promise that’s ahead of us.”
While the idea was considered to be “the longest of long shots” when it first came up in conservation, he said they were encouraged throughout the process.
Ducks Unlimited has been a great partner, Rearick said.
Rearick said the conservation district is not new to this type of endeavor. For the last 25 years, it has managed the Cain Creek project, a grassland and pasture demonstration site not far from the Baum property.
“Our vision of what this site is going to be,” he said of the latest activity, “is to be able to demonstrate that working cropland can do that same thing. We can develop it. We can do all kinds of things with it.”
He said the site will show there can be clean, clear water without a pollution problem. It will prove it can have healthy productive soils, livestock integration, thriving wildlife and a focus on sustainability, Rearick said.
“You can have all these things even as you are striving towards profitability and productivity on a piece of crop ground with new and different practices, with new and different ideas,” he said.
Also, he said it can successfully be done with a transparency of record keeping, to allow others to see how it can work on their farms as well.
The project is designed to manage habitat in a balanced way, Putnam said.
“We know that farmers and ranchers are essential stewards of the land and have a long and rich tradition of caring for our natural resources,” he said.
He said that hunters also have a long tradition of being good stewards of the resource, so they leave it better for the next generation than they found it.
“And we know that the things that all of us do together work,” Putnam said. “So when we lock arms and work together we know what works and we know how to make an impact over time on the landscape.”