Tribal farmers and ranchers

Partnering for community vitality at Fort Hall

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are located on the Fort Hall Reservation in the eastern Snake River Plain of southeastern Idaho. The reservation occupies more than 545,000 acres, of which approximately 345,000 acres is rangeland used primarily for cattle grazing, hunting and gathering. Approximately 150,000 acres are dedicated to farming. There are 69 tribal operations, four of which are owned and/or at least partially operated by women, with about 8,200 head of cattle. The biggest economic challenges include weather-related issues and input costs, particularly winter feed costs and animal health issues. Nearly 25 percent of the reservation’s roughly 3,500 residents live in poverty and do not have a high school diploma. The median income is $31,240.

Tribal extension program director and FRTEP agent Danielle Gunn provides leadership and cultivates partnerships to develop and implement educational programs in response to producer, youth and community needs and requests. The program’s results-based approach encourages community vitality and growth, and fosters the viability of agricultural enterprises.

Making an impact

FRTEP Fort Hall Extension is a trusted resource. When the program began it was under-utilized, but community members have now come to rely on numerous programs and services, which includes connecting tribal members to other agencies and resource partners.

Agricultural practices have improved on the reservation through producers having increased knowledge, access and understanding of technology, which has resulted in greater economic returns and financial stability. These factors improve ranch sustainability and quality of life. Research-based education and science-based programs, delivered by the agent in concert with other extension specialists and agencies, enable producers to solve problems with proven tools in time to make a difference – i.e. addressing reproductive inefficiencies for cattle, improving animal health programs, range health and noxious weed control. One rancher at Fort Hall expanded his herd by 50 percent by applying reproductive technologies that improved heifer development. After seeing his success, other producers followed suit. When the West Nile virus appeared in 2006, Extension was able to provide materials and education to the community to help manage the disease. These and other educational endeavors have greatly improved the knowledge and skills of producers while helping them to manage their operations and solve problems more efficiently.

Relationship building between Extension agents and ranchers is key to addressing and solving a wide range of issues, including large range fires, and animal and range health. For example, one producer asked for the agent’s help to determine what was killing cattle on a large range unit. The agent worked with the USDA Poisonous Plant Laboratory in Logan, Utah to identify the cause of the cattle deaths. It was determined that woody aster was accumulating high amounts of selenium from an abandoned phosphate mine. Cattle were ingesting this plant, which can result in selenosis and death. Affected producers volunteered to help the agent identify and treat woody aster infestations. They also contact the agent when dead cattle are found so that the agent can perform necropsies to determine the cause of death. The monitoring and treatment of woody aster resulted in zero stenosis-related deaths from 2016 to 2018.

What distinguishes the FRTEP Fort Hall Extension Program is the fact that it takes a well-rounded approach that addresses several priority areas as identified by producers, community members and tribal leaders. Demonstration projects initiated by the agent contribute greatly to the program’s success as she works with groups and individuals in the field with livestock, range fires, noxious weeds and poisonous plants. As a result, Extension is a valuable resource for tribal farms and ranches while also meeting the Tribe’s objective of having more youth involved in agriculture-related activities.