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SDSU to assist Santee Sioux with organic bison

Posted: Tuesday, Nov 23rd, 2010

These buffalo just south of Royal River Casino are part of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe’s herd, which will be thinned out in the coming years as South Dakota State University researchers look to turn the herd organic and make it economically sustainable. A United States Department of Agriculture grant made the project possible.

A group of South Dakota State University researchers is helping the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe revitalize an animal that has important ties to the Native American culture.

SDSU was recently awarded a $43,809 United States Department of Agriculture grant to “plan for a sustainable organic tribal bison production system,” according to an SDSU news release.

“The goal of this program is to help producers make the transition and develop markets for their agricultural products that are organic,” said SDSU ag experiment station economist Scott Fausti.

Fausti and other researchers will be working specifically with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, using the money to plan a complete organic revitalization of the tribe’s herd of approximately 125 buffalo.

“Of course the bison is a cultural icon to the Native American culture and so it’s culturally important to Native American tribes that they have a bison herd because it puts them in touch with their tribal heritage,” he said.

The herd will be culled into an organic group of 32 animals that will include just 30 cows and two bulls. Fausti said about 100 of the animals have already been sold from the herd, which contained as many as 225 buffalo at one time.

The herd is not economically sustainable, and costs the tribe money to maintain, according to Fausti. His group hopes to make the herd economically and environmentally sustainable by creating an internal demand in the tribe for bison meat, which contains more protein and is leaner and healthier than commercial beef.

Fausti said he hopes to “integrate the bison into the lifestyles of the Native American community a little bit more fully than it is now.”

Fausti’s group will hone in on a strict diet for the creatures. Herbicides and pesticides will be eliminated from the animals’ diets; the bison will graze in pasturelands that are chemical-free. Only certain types of parasite treatments will be used, and “specific types of handling practices” will be observed.

Any sick animal will be given antibiotics but removed from the program until it becomes well in order to avoid introducing chemicals into the herd.

“We’re going to help them transition their bison herd from traditional production to organic,” Fausti said.

The team of academics, from dieticians, nutritionists, scientists and dieticians, should be up to the task.

“It’s multi-disciplined across just about every college in the university,” Fausti said. “We’re providing our expert advice in helping them with this process.”

The initial funding will be used to plan for what will be a three-year transitional process. Additional funds are necessary for the project to be seen through to the end.

The Flandreau Santee-Sioux Tribe and the Inter-Tribal Bison Council were the main forces behind the grant.

Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal President Anthony Reider did not return a phone call from the Register.

U.S. organic production has seen heavy growth since the late 1990’s according to the SDSU news release, and more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers now buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28 percent buy organic products weekly.

“More and more farmers are adopting organic agriculture practices to produce quality food and boost farm income,” said Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). “These research and Extension projects will equip producers with the tools and resources they need to operate profitable and sustainable organic farms.”

NIFA awarded the grant through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, according to the news release. The initiative “enhances the ability of producers and processors who already have adopted organic standards to grow and market high-quality organic agricultural products.”

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