North Central SARE From the Field Profile
North Dakota Farming Family Uses Livestock to Restore the Land
A group of farmers in Wimbledon, ND are working to turn a conventional chemically dependent farm into a fertile, sustainable, organic, farming unit. What started as a farm restoration project for the sake of their beef market ended by using all of the livestock to restore the soil.
Dick and Linda Grotberg, Dick Lovestrand, Rilla Miller, and Virginia Grotberg live and work together as a Christian community in the Bethany Prairie Farm Fellowship. The farm consists of 440 acres, 400 of which are tillable. The livestock consists of 70 Scottish Highland cows, 12 to 15 head of Highland beef, 53 yearlings and calves, and 3 herd bulls, 10 Welsh mares, an American Baskin Curly stallion, one milk cow, a dozen Saanen milking goats, 300 broilers, and 150 laying hens.
Bethany Prairie Farm has been Dick Grotberg’s home since the 1940’s. It has been farmed conventionally since the 1950’s. In 2004 the Grotbergs went out of confinement hogs and began purchasing Scottish Highland cattle. In 2004, began to practice sustainable management practices with the cattle. In 2005, they began the task of restoring the 600-acre conventional farm to a sustainable organic integrated crop/livestock farming unit.
In 2006, the Bethany Prairie Farm Fellowship along with their project partners and a team of soil scientists, agronomists, and other experts, submitted a proposal for their restoration project, and were awarded $18,000 from the NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Program.
Their goals were to make an integrated grain/livestock small farm sustainable at the pre-1950 average acreage before chemicals came into use, to maintain economic viability during the transition from conventional to organic agriculture, and provide year around grazing for 70 Highland cow/calf units, 10 Welsh mares, and their Curly foals.
“We started what we are doing for the sake of our beef market and ended by using all of the livestock to restore the soil,” said Linda Grotberg. “We want to work together as a body to be faithful stewards of land that is not ours, caretakers of animals we do not own, and teachers by example to whomever God brings into our lives. We are committed to sustainable, organic, responsible agriculture and we are convinced that it is our responsibility to teach the concept to others by how we live, what we think, and what we eat.”
The group has researched, learned, and made use of expert advisors to begin to restore their chemically dependent soils to full health and to make the most of crops and livestock integration in the preparation for organic production. Their goal was to establish a base line of their soil’s health in order to both compare and measure the success of the project. The on-farm soil quality monitoring project monitored changes in soil quality in contrasting land management practices over time. In particular, the work examined the transition from conventional to organic farming in the Midwest and the corresponding changes in soil biology and fertility. Evaluations were conducted on-farm for paired no-till organic, conventional tillage, and pastureland.
According to Linda Grotberg, their fields now are approximately 25 to 44 acres each, and are designed to follow the contours of the land. With a 9 year rotation, they include grasses and numerous small grain crops. The data collected from this study will provide feedback to land owners and provide training opportunities for National Resource Conservation Service field staff and others on issues related to soil quality. She believes this project can serve as a baseline for soil quality on a system that is in the process of conversion to an organic system.
“It is now all about building healthy soil,” said Dick Grotberg. “Our Highland cattle are so helpful. All the land is fenced with high tensile electric fences. We rotate graze the grass. Also we interseeded with turnips and rape seed along with other species to eventually get to the place where we graze 10-12 months. Even now there is no more feed lot manure, as we place the bales on end at present in a pattern to have all the manure and urine spread by the cattle and horses.”
The Grotbergs hosted the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society Summer Symposium and included the Central ND Pastured Poultry Field Day in the event. About 150 people attended.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FNC06-625, Prairie Farm Pilot Project - Transitioning from Conventional to Organic Farming.
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