Don’t let opportunities for learning pass you by

Farm Forum

My last couple of columns focused on grassland management and education. In keeping with that theme, I thought I would share some information on recent opportunities and how you can stay informed.

One of the best problems in education is having too much student demand for a course or a class. Such is case with the South Dakota Grazing School, where for twelve years running the school has been overbooked with students. 2014 was no exception, as 34 of 38 registered individuals attended the 2 ½ day school originally designed for thirty students.

Why limit the school to thirty students? “It’s a matter of logistics,” says Judge Jessop, coordinator for the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. Jessop has been coordinating the annual Grazing School every September since its inception in 2003, and believes the school has a winning formula. “Thirty people is the right number for the type of school we want to run. Students are assigned to small groups of 5 or 6 individuals, and we try to mix the students up so that each group might have a combination of west river and east river producers and even agency personnel from various backgrounds all learning together.”

2014 was the 12th year of the Grazing School, which is organized by the South Dakota Grassland Coalitions Education Committee but also relies heavily on the dedication of a multitude of partner organizations such as SDSU Extension, NRCS, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Conservation Districts, and others. “To list all that have contributed over the years would be difficult,” says Jessop. “We’ve had so many organizations and individuals help out over time. We have individuals who return every year to instruct and lead the small groups. But, we also have no problem recruiting new help when we need it.” After 12 years, the energy around the school hasn’t diminished, and the planning team is constantly improving the curriculum. In Jessop’s estimation, the 2014 school was one of the best they’ve hosted.

Regarding students, Jessop estimates nearly 450 individuals have now attended the S.D. Grazing School.

During some years, the demand has been so great that two schools were necessary. As an example, SDSU Extension’s BeefSD students often attend the Grazing School as part of their program curriculum, which may require an expansion or addition of another session.

Although the school’s curriculum is primarily tailored for producers, a pleasant surprise has been the continued appeal for agency and conservation professionals. Roughly 40 percent of the students over the years have been ‘agency’ staffers. Attending the grazing school not only helps an agency staffer improve his or her grassland management planning skills, it also provides the necessary perspective to go back to the office with the correct frame of mind to assist producers with management planning … especially those producers who may not have attended the grazing school.

SDSU Extension recently wrapped up its series on drought planning with one-day workshops in Lemmon and Rapid City. We originally planned to offer this workshop series at four locations during the summer of 2013 while the memories and effects of the 2012 drought were still fresh. Workshops in Miller and Winner were well attended in 2013 and producers seemed to agree that the time to plan for drought is when we are not in a drought. Then came the Atlas blizzard and we postponed the last two workshops until 2014. Oh what a difference a year can make! With the lush green that has defined most of South Dakota in 2014, it seems that once again drought planning has fallen off the priority list for many producers and our Lemmon and Rapid City workshops were poorly attended.

We want to see our workshops well attended for the sake of our producers. It is often difficult to ‘react’ when a need arises. Our best defense is a good offense, and so we try to plan our programing to meet ongoing needs. If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to take advantage of trainings or workshops in your area, please don’t be discouraged. The best time to start is now. If you have ideas on education and training we should be offering, please let us know.

To ensure you don’t miss an opportunity, consider joining my free email distribution list called SDGRASSINFO. Several times a month I’ll send out short email messages informing you of upcoming trainings, tours, seminars, articles, or other grass management related information. Simply email me at and say ‘please add me to you list’. I will do so.

Remember: Fall and dormant season grazing can be an option, especially if you want to target cool season exotic grasses. But exercise caution. Remember that it is still very possible to ‘overgraze’ during the winter months, especially if you haven’t planned for forage needs by resting winter pastures during the growing season. Also, you need grass to make grass…grass left on pasture provides structure to catch snow which insulates the soil, helps fill water sources, and provides wildlife cover. Please contact me if you need more information on winter grazing pastures.

Upcoming trainings/events to watch for:

• December: S.D. Grassland Coalition annual Road Show featuring Gabe Brown (Dec 10 – Mission; Dec 11 – Yankton; Dec 12 – Chamberlain)

• January: Holistic Management Courses (more info to come)

• February/March: CRP Prescribed burning planning training

As always, visit SDSU Extension iGrow events calendar for information on upcoming opportunities:

The fall is one of the best times to get out and enjoy your pastures and grasslands. Fall migrations of waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds are in full swing. The mornings and evenings offer sights and sounds not captured anywhere else. The pleasant weather is a great time for kids to explore pastures and marshes without the bother of mosquitos and ticks. Shotguns, dogs, and kids can make great companions, especially if you ‘accidentally’ forget your cell phone in the truck. It’s OK to be late for supper… sometimes.