Kelly Anderson has been hooking up farmers and cattle producers for four years. No, she doesn’t work for the FarmersOnly.com online dating site, she is the Minnesota livestock grazing specialist in charge of the state’s cropland grazing exchange.
Anderson has been doing grazing plans for the state of Minnesota for about eight years. This is her fourth year with the exchange. Minnesota had the nation’s first such system.
“I have been working mainly with public lands in my current role,” Anderson said. “I have 17 years personal experience with grazing plans.”
She said getting the grazing exchange up-and-running was no simple task. There were cattle producers wishing to find grazing land and producers looking for cattle to graze their land. But, no one had yet attempted to bring the two groups together in an official capacity.
“We (ag producers) have sort of gotten into our own lanes,” Anderson said. “We’ve gotten used to being self-sufficient and not seeking outside assistance.”
Still, cover crop farmers and no-till farmers want livestock to graze their fields. It expedites soil health, she said. Cattle producers want the grazing opportunity. It’s getting the twain to meet that was the challenge.
That is where the grazing exchange comes in. It is a website that gives cattle producers in search of farmers (and vice versa) a meeting place. Like a dating site, but without a “Netflix and chill” option.
“Trying to convince producers to use a government-sponsored site was tricky,” Anderson said. “People can feel comfortable using our site. There are a lot of privacy safeguards in place.”
The program has been so popular, other states have picked up the idea. South Dakota just began a grazing exchange that is based on the Minnesota model, Anderson said. Nebraska also has a grazing exchange that includes fields with corn stover.
Anderson said Minnesota differs in that they also use wildlife habitat as well as cover crops for grazing land. It is beneficial to the wildlife and provides maintenance for public lands. Grazing is a tool that makes public land better, she said.
Recently, Practical Farmers Iowa formed the Midwest Grazing Exchange. This offers grazing opportunities for cattle producers in a four-state region that includes Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois.
“They’ve taken away the borders,” Anderson said. “It helps facilitate the process of finding suitable grazing land for cattle producers all around the region.”
This came in handy last season when there was a back-up of slaughtering due to COVID restrictions. That put stress on feed sources, she said. Producers were able to sort out rations from grain to forage.
“We ended up allowing it to be easier for cattle producers to use public lands by removing some of the red tape,” Anderson said. “If it had been during a drought it could have been worse.”
Things are looking better headed into the next grazing season, she said. This year, she is putting together detailed grazing plans for the 10-15,000 acres managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The idea is to expand the use of public grazing land. Not due to an emergency, but for targeted conservation grazing.