Sask. foundation holds reverse auction to turn cropland into natural prairie

An agricultural organization is looking to restore cropland into the natural prairie one bid at a time.

First round of bidding open until end of March

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation is holding a reverse auction that could see landowners turn part of their cropland back into grassland, like what's shown here. (B.Gjetvaj /

An agricultural organization is looking to restore cropland into the natural prairie one bid at a time.

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation, a charity and land trust that, among other things, aims to conserve agricultural lands, is holding a reverse auction where landowners will bid to receive money to spend on turning part of their land back into grassland.

"Not only the grasslands are disappearing, but the wildlife that depends on them are disappearing as well," said Tom Harrison, while on CBC Radio's Morning Edition Thursday.

Past studies and other conservation organizations estimate about 20 per cent — possibly less — of natural grassland remains in Saskatchewan.

The ecosystem has a significant role to play, said Carolyn Gaudet, manager of the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan, a partnership that aims to preserve the native prairie.

Grasslands are biodiverse, with many organisms relying on the ecosystem. They adapt to extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, and can absorb carbon dioxide particles from the air and store them underground, making them significant in the fight against climate change, she said.

Trees, too, absorb and store carbon dioxide, she noted, but the particles are emitted into the air again when trees are cut down.

"A lot of people take it for granted," Gaudet said.

The stock growers foundation received $2 million to hold its reverse auction.

Landowners can estimate what it will cost them to restore the land and maintain it in perennial cover for at least 30 years, according to the foundation's website.

The foundation will source and buy the native seed blend required, but the landowner must cover all other costs, such as land preparation, weeds and finances, the website says.

LISTEN| Sask. Stock Growers Foundation runs reverse auction for grasslands conservation:
Grasslands are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world, but one Saskatchewan foundation is hoping to preserve some of its grassland areas through a reverse auction.

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

"You've got to think very carefully about a whole number of things," Harrison said, such as why such a project is important to the individual, how it could affect their operations, what financial support they'll need and how it will affect their operation's bottom line.

Harrison, who farms north of Regina, said he started a similar project about 20 years ago. He's been able to use the plot of land for his operations; it now serves as a pasture.

"It's actually worked out quite well for me," he said.

Historically, it has been difficult to interest land owners in converting their cropland into grassland because of the cost and time it takes until it's useable, Gaudet said.

But the foundation's initiative hasn't been attempted yet, she said, and it could establish the actual cost of doing such work and help estimate how much extra carbon can be stored, compared to cropland.

"It'll be an experiment to see if this is the right way to do it," Gaudet said.

The first round of bidding is open until the end of March.

With files from Nicholas Frew and Stefani Langenegger