Conservation program offers cheaper land

The land would come with a conservation agreement that ensures wetlands won’t be drained and grasses remain 

Ranchers looking to launch or expand their operations may want to check into buying land through a conservation program.

The Ducks Unlimited Canada initiative, called the Revolving Land Conservation Program, lets producers buy land with restored wetlands at a cheaper price, allowing them to use it for grazing or haying.

“We have found it’s been very successful,” said James Olson, a conservation program specialist with the organization. “It makes land available at a little bit cheaper rate, and it has been very hard to find pasture land that hasn’t been converted to cropping.”

Olson said Ducks Unlimited began the program because many wetlands have been drained and grasses converted to cropland.

With this initiative, Ducks Unlimited buys cropland and converts it back into pasture. Specialists restore wetlands and install fencing.

Once complete, they put the land back up for sale with a conservation easement attached to it. The easement ensures the new landowners can’t re-drain and break the land again for cropland, Olson said.

If they break the easement, he said, then the landowners would be required to re-establish the wetlands and the grasses. If they don’t, Ducks Unlimited could take them to court, he said.

“We haven’t had much problems with that because most guys are cattle guys and they are interested in grass and water,” Olson said. “We make sure that we explain the easement to anyone that is buying, providing them a copy so they know the rules and restrictions.”

Proceeds from the sales go back into the program, allowing Ducks to purchase and restore more cropland.

Olson said producers like the program because they become the owners of the land.

As well, he said, their new land has a good water source and healthy forages, giving them a solid base to manage it well for years to come.

“What’s important to us is good healthy grass and water on the landscape,” he said. “Ranchers also want that, and they do a good job of managing it.

“When we sell to the ranching community, we are confident they will do a good job. It benefits their livestock, the wildlife, ecosystem and the community by having that healthy grass on the landscape.”

With the land now having good water-holding capacity, he added, it will help producers mitigate drought and flooding issues.

“It’s just one of the benefits, and there’s going to be habitat for pollinators, as well.”

When Ducks Unlimited buys a quarter for restoration, Olson said it looks for wetlands that have been ditched or drained. It fixes that by allowing the water to be held back as it once was historically.

When re-seeding grass on the former cropland, the organization normally uses an alfalfa mix. He said once the grass is at a reasonable condition, which means it has no major weed issues, the land then gets put for sale.

The property line is also fenced.

“The whole process generally takes about two years,” he said.

Prices vary depending on the area in which the land is being sold.

For instance, Olson said, land in an area with lots of cropland generally has a bigger discount because there are fewer cattle producers to bid on it.

In areas where there is more pasture, and where they aren’t converting much cropland, the discount is negligible.

“It would be a similar market in that case, but it’s still variable,” he said.

Details on land that Ducks Unlimited is selling under this program can be found here.

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