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by Carl Madsen

bowl of stone soup clipartMost of us remember the children’s story of stone soup where Napoleon’s soldiers showed the French villagers how to make soup when everyone shared a little bit. The lesson children should learn from this is one of sharing. I learned a different lesson from this story and that’s how to get people to share. First you need the objective of what you’re after, and then someone needs to divide all the parts into bite sized pieces for all the participants. That’s the technique we used to buy 44 specialized grass seeding and no-till drills in South Dakota at a cost of about $1,000,000.

The issue we were working on was how to get native grass planted and encourage farmers to use no-till methods in their grain production. Both need specialized equipment which most farmers don’t have.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program joined with South Dakota’s conservation districts, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Ducks Unlimited and a bunch of local groups and businesses to buy the machines, which cost about $22,000 each. The conservation districts agreed to pay for half the cost of the drills, and own them and operate them. They charge farmers a per acre rental fee to use the drills. Any profit is theirs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, and Ducks Unlimited shared the other half of the purchase price. Like a race car on the Nascar circuit, everyone who contributes gets their logo on the drill. Every farmer who uses the drill can’t help but see who made it possible.

There is now a network of these specialized drills available to farmers all across South Dakota to restore native grasslands or get acquainted with no-till farming. Since we started the program in 1997, 2,900 farmers have planted 153,000 acres of grass and 10,000 acres of no-till crops.

There is no way that any of the partners in this project could have done this alone. When we all agreed to make this pot of soup and each of us put in a little bit of our treasure, the plan came together. I can’t help but stand back now and smile when I see the machines rolling up acre after acre. I feel a little like a French soldier about to enjoy the fruits of his effort to bring people together to accomplish something non of us could have done alone.

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