How could this initiative benefit me?
Audubon enlists agency partners and livestock production specialists to provide technical assistance to help participating ranchers meet initiative protocols and improve forage quantity/quality over time. Participants may get priority enrollment in some federal or state cost-share and incentive programs. For those that direct-market their cattle, the initiative can expand market exposure and provide more product differentiation. A known conservation brand will help tell the story about your operations and the habitat improvement you are making happen for grassland birds.
Can I exit the program at any time?
Yes, the program is entirely voluntary.
What’s the premium?
Audubon does not set the price of beef marketed through this initiative. The retailer and consumers will ultimately determine the premium, and as with any market the local price will vary with local supply and demand factors. Market trends tell us there is a precedent for the premium and we are working to ensure products from this initiative are well positioned and actively marketed. We expect our certification seal to bring a broad market appeal that should enhance demand by conservation-conscious consumers.
What’s required of me?
Participating producers agree to adopt initiative standards and implement a Habitat Management Plan developed in cooperation with Audubon or an agency partner. That plan outlines steps to build better habitat for local birds while being responsive to practical farm management considerations and the economic needs of the operation. These plans include a practical implementation schedule and set realistic targets for annual improvement. The plan also outlines initiatives to help defray the cost of many habitat management practices.
What are your program standards?
To become certified, a ranch must meet a set of Habitat Management protocols, some of which are developed specifically for each region. The ranch must also meet our program protocols related to Forage and Feeding, Animal Health & Welfare, and Environmental Sustainability. Notably, feedlots are not allowed, and hormones and antibiotics are strictly prohibited. Program standards were developed by producers, cattle industry experts and wildlife biologists to strike a meaningful balance among conservation, animal husbandry and economic priorities. The full set of ACR program standards is available at Audubon.org/ranching.
How long does enrolling in the initiative take?
It usually it takes 6 months to complete the ranch certification process.
Does this cost me anything?
There are no program participation fees at this time. Costs may be incurred to implement habitat improvements or develop infrastructure related to the transition to a new grazing approach. Where available, producers are connected to agency cost share and incentive programs to help defer costs.
What are the underlying principals behind Audubon’s protocols?
The initiative is based on the concept that consumers can have a direct impact on land management through their food purchasing decisions. Well-managed grazing is a beneficial ecological process on grasslands, and cattle can be raised humanely on open grassland without hormones, antibiotics, or negative environmental impacts. We believe that such practices can be expanded to encompass millions of acres when conscious consumers choose beef produced on Audubon-certified ranches.
Do you have a specific grazing system you require?
The initiative promotes ranch management practices that provide habitat for grassland birds. A Habitat Management Plan is developed for each ranch that defines management practices that benefit target grassland bird species for that ecoregion. Typically, these plans include some type of rotational grazing approach that increases pasture plant diversity and vigor, and results in a diversity of grassland habitat across a ranch.