Sask. Foundation conducts reverse auctions to convert farmland into natural prairies

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation holds a reverse auction where landowners could convert some of their farmland back to grassland, as shown here.  (B.Gjetvaj / - photo credit)

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation holds a reverse auction where landowners could convert some of their farmland back to grassland, as shown here. (B.Gjetvaj / – photo credit)

A farming organization is attempting to restore farmland piece by piece to the natural prairie.

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation, a charitable and land trust whose mission includes preserving farmland, holds a reverse auction where landowners bid for cash to spend to buy a portion of their land converting land back to grassland.

“Not only are the grasslands disappearing, but also the wildlife that depends on them,” said Tom Harrison while on CBC radio Morning edition Thursday.

Previous studies and other conservation organizations estimate that about 20 percent — possibly less — of natural grassland remains in Saskatchewan.

The ecosystem has an important role to play, said Carolyn Gaudet, manager of the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan, a partnership aimed at preserving the native prairie.

Grasslands are biologically diverse, and many organisms depend on the ecosystem. They adapt to extreme weather conditions like droughts and floods and can absorb carbon dioxide particles from the air and store them underground, making them important in the fight against climate change, she said.

Trees also absorb and store carbon dioxide, but the particles are released back into the air when trees are felled.

“A lot of people take that for granted,” Gaudet said.

The Stock Growers Foundation raised $2 million for conducting their reverse auction.

Landowners can estimate what it will cost them to restore the land and keep it under permanent cover for at least 30 years, according to the foundation’s website.

The foundation will source and buy the required native seed mix, but the landowner will have to cover all other costs such as land preparation, weeding and finance, the website says.

LISTEN| Sask. The Stock Growers Foundation conducts a reverse auction for grassland conservation:

The foundation will consult with interested property owners about their offers. Successful landowners can get money for the project.

“You have to think very carefully about a number of things,” Harrison said, such as why a project like this is important to an individual, how it might impact their operations, what financial support they need, and how it will affect the bottom line of their operations have.

Harrison, who runs farms north of Regina, said he started a similar project about 20 years ago. He could use the property for his operations; it now serves as a pasture.

“It actually worked out really well for me,” he said.

In the past, it’s been difficult to get landowners interested in converting their farmland to grassland because it’s costly and time-consuming to get it ready for use, Gaudet said.

But the foundation’s initiative has not yet been attempted, she said, and it could determine the true cost of such work and help estimate how much additional carbon can be stored compared to farmland.

“It will be an experiment to see if this is the right way to go,” Gaudet said.

The first call for applications runs until the end of March.


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