A lot of older folks may already have an idea what a Grassbank is: a marijuana dispensary.

But the Agricultural Grassbank Campus is a collaborative project by the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, Winnett ACES and the Nature Conservancy.  These nonprofits intend the Grassbank to be an agricultural education ranch to foster responsible land management and prairie conservation.  Information on this endeavor can likely be found on their websites.

This can be an open door for anyone wanting to enter the ranching business without spending millions to buy a ranch.  They will have to buy and raise the livestock, but the grazing cost may be significantly reduced.  The Grassbank will study and experiment with livestock practices to learn effective sustainability in the merging of ag with conservation.

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So Where is this Grassbank?

Good question.  These three groups are currently looking for a suitable property to start this outdoors class and research space.  The plan is for the Nature Conservancy to purchase the land, with the help of a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and donate it to the Ranchers Alliance and the Winnett ACES to create the Campus.  The project intends to complement the existing ranching community in the area while also studying and learning from them.

They are focusing their search in north-central and central Montana, in these counties in no particular order of importance: Blaine, Fergus, Garfield, Musselshell, Petroleum, Phillips, and Valley.

View of farm land and Mohonk House Observation Tower.
Credit: nancykennedy, ThinkstockPhotos, TSM Media Center

Taking this Cooperation with a Little Salt

When I read this presser from the organizations, with the Nature Conservancy, and in what counties they are looking for property, I smelled the American Prairie Reserve.  Now rebranded as American Prairie, APR has some notoriety for acquiring family farms and ranches to merge into a vast open range for bison.  And for suspected shady ways to get the lands.

So I did a little research.  Opened my handy road map.  Except Mussselshell, these counties listed are either just north or just south of the great Fort Peck Lake.

Went to the AP website which includes handy online maps of scattered deeded lands and prairie units.  Well Sonuvagun!  They lie in the same counties north and south of Fort Peck!  What a coincidence!

The Agricultural Grassbank could be neighbors with the American Prairie.

I wonder, will the Grassbank and the APR be friendly competitors for the land and the resources ... or will the Grassbank become a subsidiary?

For the record, I did locate the American Prairie collaboration webpage and the only two major organizations listed are the Smithsonian and National Geographic.  Nature Conservancy is not involved.

A Little Hop of Faith for Easter

Raised in a ranching family, I'm willing to extend a little trust in this Grassbank.  I will accept their whole mission and outlook...when I see the cattle on the land.  I will believe this idea when I see cowboys and cowgirls working the livestock, learning the business with the realities and how to keep the land productive for many years.  I will hail this innovative endeavor when I read proven research on how livestock agriculture can be sustained and prosperous for generations on a single piece of property, adaptable to all conditions.

Now that I write this I ask "Don't we already have the case studies in this state?"  And what struggles are these privately-owned operations facing?  Perhaps the Grassbank organizers should attend the Producer Profitability Initiative get-togethers.  Might give the Grassbank a leg up.

And can the Grassbank get along with the American Prairie and the free-range bison?

Perhaps as the poet Robert Frost advised, "Good Fences make Good Neighbors."

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