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INSIDE THIS ISSUE On the cover
Drought Monitor conference comes to Winner
Climate smart agriculture panel at Dakotafest Farmers plan to create James River Valley Research Farm What is 3.5 inches of rain worth? Reward offered for large-scale cattle death case South Dakota’s hemp industry takes shape Organic Valley farms grateful for organic switch Couple brings big vision to their little farm
8 3 6 11 12 15 16 18
Publisher JO N I H A R M S Editor L U K E H AG EN Advertising Director LO R I E H A N S EN South Dakota Farm & Ranch is an agricultural publication dedicated to informing SD and Midwest area farmers & ranchers about current topics and news. This publication fits the niche of our unique farmers and ranchers of the Midwest, and the diverseness we have in our area. Although the Missouri River divides our state, we are all South Dakotans and thank the land for supporting us each and every day. Our readers may be livestock ranchers or row crop farmers, and everywhere in between, however, we all have a common goal in mind. We feed and support the growing population, and want the next generation to find that same love and support that agriculture can offer. We’re all South Dakota Farmers and Ranchers’ and when you advertise in South Dakota Farm & Ranch, you are immersing your company, product, and service into a growing community of dedicated farmers and ranchers. Welcome to South Dakota Farm & Ranch! To subscribe to this FREE publication, contact South Dakota Farm & Ranch.
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Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic
Mike Pearson moderated a panel on climate smart agriculture Wednesday Aug. 18.
Carbon capture and cover crops Smart ag panelists say interest is growing in regenerative practices By Erik Kaufman Mitchell Republic Carbon capture and cover crops were among the topics discussed by panelists at the climate smart agriculture panel at Dakotafest on Wednesday morning. And they said that reducing carbon in the atmosphere is something that is slowly beginning to catch on amongst producers. In addition to the perceived environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions, there are general benefits that the producer can find by taking a mindful approach to the modern farming concept.
“Removing carbon from the air, that’s the overall goal here,” said Mike Pearson, who moderated the panel. “We’re happy as a clam with it in the soil. Anything that is carbon is organic, and if we’re building that in the soil, now we’re increasing fertilizer holding capacity. The soil is more alive. It can contain more water. It can contain more water, which in a drought year certainly matters.” The panel included Andrew Walmsly, American Farm Bureau Federation Director of Congressional Relations, who gave an update on discussions in Wash-
ington, D.C. and Jared Knock, a producer from Carpenter, who shared what it means to South Dakota producers and the techniques he is using on his farm. President Joe Biden earlier this year called on United States farmers to lead the way in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions to battle climate change. Experts estimate that farmers across the world can sequester a large enough portion of carbon through regenerative agriculture practices to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Research indicates
CARBON: Page 4
SEPTEMBER 2021 SOUTH DAKOTA FARM & RANCH 3
CARBON From Page 3
that removing carbon in the air and replenishing it in soil worldwide could result in a 10% reduction in carbon levels. Though carbon capture is still a relatively up and coming concept, environmentally-minded agriculture is not. Walmsley said that carbon emissions in the United States are relatively lower than in other parts of the world, and have been for some time. “We have a good story to tell in American agriculture. When you look at agricultural carbon emissions around the world, they account for about 25% of carbon emissions on average. Here in the United States, we’re at 10%,” Walmsly said. “And I think a real key piece is that in roughly two generations,
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic
Jared Knock, a agriculture producer from Carpenter, and Andrew Walmsly, the American Farm Bureau Federation Director of Congressional Relations, were panelists at the Dakotafest climate smart agriculture panel Wednesday, Aug. 18. we have increased our output in American agriculture by over 287%, while our input has remained flat.” He noted that the
ethanol and biodiesel industries also have worked to reduce greenhouse gasses, bringing them down by 71 million metric tons,
which is equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road every year. “That’s technology that exists today,” Walmsly said.
Knock said there are two primary ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The first is plant-level natural solutions and
the second is mechanical removal of carbon from the atmosphere. The first method utilizes informed cover
CLIMATE: Page 5
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CLIMATE From Page 4
crop use to help keep carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere. “Every corn seed removes 500 more times its weight in carbon than what it weighs when you put it in the ground,” Knock said. The second method requires a mechanical system that pulls air from the atmosphere and processes it to remove the carbon. “That’s a multi-billion dollar industry right now. It’s put out in the desert and it’s run by a square mile of solar panels. That energy runs the machine that sucks air out of the atmosphere, of which carbon makes up 0.03%. That’s all run off green energy,” Knock said. Pearson said there are three main branches to the benefits of carbon removal, including the overall potential environmental benefits, the agronomic advantages and the mone-
tary benefits that will hopefully come more into focus as leaders in Washington, D.C. learn about the issue and take measures to support it. “There is the broader societal benefit, then there’s the agronomic advantages higher water holding capacity, the ability to retain nutrients on the ground rather than having them washed into a watershed, and then there’s getting paid,” Pearson said. “(A producer can say) I can do these things, I can get the societal benefits, I can get some long term agronomic benefits.” Then there is receiving payment for conducting those practices. The Biden administration now wants to steer $30 billion in farm aid money from the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation to pay farmers to implement sustainable practices and capture carbon in their soil. Walmsly said he believes the interest from producers is there if leaders in Washington, D.C. get on board. They already
participate heavily in other conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, which seems to indicate they would be supportive of similar efforts that encouraged such farming practices and even compensated them for putting the work and materials in. “When you look at conservation tiles and the practices that are going on - look across the country at the voluntary conservation programs, the wildlife programs. There is a little over 140 million acres. That is larger than the land areas of California and New York combined,” Walmsly said. “Can we build upon that, and what are the tools we need to get producers to continue with it?” Pearson said interested producers can reach out to groups like the Soil Help Partnership or the American Farm Bureau for more information on how to proceed with taking on a method for carbon capture or for beneficial ways to implement a cover crop.
Every corn seed removes 500 more times its weight in carbon than what it weighs when you put it in the ground. JARED KNOCK agriculture producer from Carpenter
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Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
Bryan Eden is the president of the James River Valley Research Farm. Photo taken at Dakotafest in Mitchell, South Dakota, on Aug. 19, 2021.
On donated land, farmers plan to create James River Valley Research Farm By Jenny Schlecht Agweek MITCHELL, South Dakota — When farmer Ron Baruth started thinking about retiring, he talked to his neighbor, Bryan Eden, about the possibilities of what to do with his land. Eden has rented some land from Baruth and his wife, Deb, over the years near Alpena, South Dako-
ta, and both know of the unique soils and issues that producers in the James River Valley experience. Eden said salinity is a big problem, as are erosion and compaction, but the bigger issue is that there hasn’t been much long-term, non-commercial research done in the valley. Farmers can glean bits and pieces from research
For Farmers. By Farmers. 6 SOUTH DAKOTA FARM & RANCH SEPTEMBER 2021
done in other places, but it isn’t necessarily a fit for their soils and their problems, Eden said. So, Baruth offered up five quarters of his land for the creation of the James River Valley Research Farm so that farmers up and down the valley can begin to learn how to best use their land. “It’d be an area where we could try some forward
practices,” Eden said. The James River, also known as the Jim River or the Dakota River, is a tributary of the Missouri River. It starts in central North Dakota, between Harvey and Fessenden, and flows generally to the south-southeast. The river winds by Jamestown, North Dakota, and the South Dakota communities of Aberdeen,
Huron and Mitchell before making it to the Missouri, near Yankton, South Dakota. According to the North Dakota Department of Water Resources, the James River has one of the flattest slopes of any river in North America, and its drainage basin covers approximately 22,000 square miles.
LAND: Page 7
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LAND From Page 6
James River Valley Research Farm say the land in the valley can be very productive, but it’s also very fragile. They hope that by researching modern crop production, along with livestock production, on the five quarters of Baruth’s land, they can learn more about what production methods could preserve soil, water quality and wildlife to make agricultural production sustainable into the future throughout the valley. For Eden, a fourth-generation farmer who raises cattle, row crops and hay, the effort isn’t just to help improve the land for his own use. His children are involved on the farm, and he wants it to be productive long into the future.
Public domain map by Jon Platek
Map of the course and drainage basin of the James River in the US states of North Dakota and South Dakota. “I want to leave something that will work for them,”
he said. At Dakotafest in Mitchell earlier this
month, organizers of the research farm were trying to drum
up support and find new members to join them in their efforts. Farmer Charlie Edinger of Mitchell spoke briefly before a panel discussion on conservation, urging farmers to become members of the farm to provide monetary support and guidance to get the farm going. Eden said the effort to create the farm is in its infancy, with paperwork to become a nonprofit only just completed. A membership drive started in August. But the organizers have plans in place for how they want to move forward. Eden, the president of the fledgling group, said research will be governed by a board of producers. The Baruths will get rent payments off the production of the land, and a farm manager will help lead long-term research. Members will receive newsletters on prog-
ress at the farm so that they can learn lessons that might help on their own land. Members will vote on a board of directors, with districts throughout the valley. So far, the members all are from South Dakota, though the group hopes to get some interest out of North Dakota farmers in the valley, too. The James River Valley Research Farm has membership options ranging from $100 to $20,000. Eden said any board member can answer questions about the project. Eden can be reached at 605354-7195; Rob Baruth, vice president, at 605354-2699; Scott Carlson, treasurer, at 605203-0837; and Craig Stehly, secretary, at 605-999-8466. While a website is still in the works, questions also can be directed to JRVresearchfarm@ gmail.com. The farm’s address is 39497 219th St., Alpena, SD 57312.
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Marcus Traxler / South Dakota Farm and Ranch
Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, speaks Aug. 4, 2021 during a South Dakota Farm Bureau Carbon and Climate Conversations event at the Holiday Inn Express in Winner.
U.S. DROUGHT MONITOR HAS A LOT TO CONSIDER IN DRY YEAR’S MAPS By Marcus Traxler South Dakota Farm and Ranch
WINNER — In a drought year like 2021, Brian Fuchs’ phone rings more often and his email inbox fills up faster. “Hey, in wet years, I can whip out that map and everyone is happy,” he joked. “Drier years are definitely more difficult.” The interest in what he and his colleagues at the U.S. Drought Monitor have to report increases as conditions get drier. He helps
write the weekly report and the corresponding maps that classify various levels of drought. “The map is the end product,” Fuchs said. “But the process is what we focus on and what’s important to have right.” Fuchs is a climatologist and faculty member at the National Drought Mitigation Center, based in Lincoln, Neb. He recently spoke at four sites around South Dakota as part of a Carbon and Climate Conversations
series, hosted by the South Dakota Farm Bureau, including an engagement at the Holiday Inn Express on Aug. 8 in Winner. This year, with much of the western United States dealing with severe, extreme or exceptional drought — which are the three most severe drought conditions issued by the Drought Monitor — Fuchs’ work gets more attention. As of Aug. 24, nearly 32% of the country was in a category of severe drought or worse, and that
was after a week where most of the country saw improvements, including in the Great Plains, the Midwest and the Southwest, and extreme and exceptional drought designations declined for the first time in a month. While the map and its weekly report are important, they’re also imperfect. Fuchs said it’s hard to precisely draw the line between counties, let alone townships or from farm to farm. “Local conditions can vary,” he said. “That’s
always the disclaimer. Your conditions could very well be different from the farm two miles away. … The data is just not at that fine of scale.” Not yet, at least. Fuchs said one growing issue with compiling the map comes from how much data there is out there. The monitor has a number of statistical inputs and formulas that help guide labeling drought conditions, plus getting reports from hundreds of observers and
DROUGHT: Page 9
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Marcus Traxler / South Dakota Farm and Ranch
A slide shows the various drought categories and their frequencies on Aug. 4, 2021 during a South Dakota Farm Bureau Carbon and Climate Conversations event at the Holiday Inn Express in Winner.
DROUGHT From Page 8
state climatologists, plus the National Weather Service, university extension employees and hydrologists. “When we started, we had a handful of indicators, and now we have 40 to 50, and one of the main questions we get is when do you get to the point where you have too much data and you
can’t get through it efficiently? And I don’t think we’re there yet, but there will be a point where we might have to prioritize the key indicators, or adjust how we handle the data in growing season, for example.” The Drought Monitor started on a weekly basis in 2000, and is a collaboration between the National Drought Mitigation Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But
there is not a consistent federal source of funding for the work, and there’s no single federal agency that is in charge of water or drought policy, instead falling to a number of federal agencies. There are also droughts of all types. There is meteorological drought, which is when dry weather patterns dominate an area, and hydrological drought, when low water supply becomes evident. Agricultural drought is when crops are affected.
But Fuchs said there’s types of drought, such as socioeconomic and ecological, where items like supply and demand for human needs and ecological systems for animals are affected. All of them require a different level of response from the public than another. “The challenge is to represent all of these different types of droughts,” he said. “And that’s hard to do on just one map.” As for how South Dakota is represented on
the map, Fuchs said the helps with the process by bringing a single voice to the process. State climatologist Laura Edwards, a former author of the Drought Monitor, helps funnel much of the needed information from local observers and reporters to the Drought Monitor authors, streamlining the process. The challenge is not to overreact to one rain event or underreact when conditions are worsening, which is where having the local input
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ain had been in the forecast for a few days. Our weather apps said 100% chance. We scoffed. We’d heard that before. Other than a few sprinkles here and there, we hadn’t had any real precipitation since June. Every time the forecast looked like maybe we’d get something, we wouldn’t. A few sprinkles. A storm that split or fizzled JENNY before it got here. SCHLECHT We’d seen high The Sorting percentage chances Pen in recent weeks result in too little water even to clear the dust from the rain gauge. The drought of 2021 has been relentlessly dusty, smoky and hot. We’ve watched the crops falter and the grasses burn up. We’ve talked to people who are selling down their herds and some who are considering leaving the business all together. We’ve lost hope. But suddenly, late at night on Aug. 19, we heard it. Rain. And not just a few drops, but heavy drops
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
One rain won’t fix the drought, but it does provide hope, Jenny Schlecht says.
worth? that didn’t stop. Through the night and into the next morning, it kept falling, off and on, steadily and gently. The next morning, I went out to feed my girls’ cats in it. I got soaked. It felt wonderful. By the night of Aug. 20, we had 3.5 inches in the rain gauge. I’ve been thinking a lot about what that 3.5 inches was worth. It won’t save the crops, the hayland or the pastures. The ranchers who’ve sold down their herds didn’t jump the gun; there simply won’t be enough feed to get them through the winter, and this recent storm doesn’t change that. I suppose, if one wanted to put a monetary value on those 3.5 inches, they could get an agronomist’s opinion of how much yield the soybeans might have gained with that rain or how much heavier the corn might be. I’m sure there’s some way to assess it. For us, it might mean some extra bales of hay off of a field of forage that my husband waited to cut, just in
It cooled down our overheated spirits and provided a slight feeling of normalcy, if only for a few days.
case we actually got some rain. But it won’t add up to much. There may be a value in having that moisture in the soil for next year, but again, that’s hard to measure and a long ways off. But even if that 3.5 inches results in a net zero on the balance sheet — which is pretty likely — it still has value. It has value in the lightened look on the farmers and ranchers faces and the spring in their steps. It has value in the way it seemed to cool everything down after a summer of scorching heat and smoke. In 2019, we couldn’t miss a rain storm. If the forecast said 10% chance, we’d get an inch. If it was
supposed to go around us, it’d hit us, straight on. It was cool and dreary all spring, summer and fall. We were down-trodden and tired. A warm, sunny day was a balm to our weary souls. This year, obviously, has been the opposite. We’d love to have a small portion of that 2019 rain and a few of those unseasonably cool days. But even that one-day storm did an awful lot to lift our spirits. So, what did that 3.5 inches of rain give us? It gave us just a glimpse of relief from what has ailed us. It cooled down our overheated spirits and provided a slight feeling of normalcy, if only for a few days. It ga ve us hope. I don’t know for sure what that’s worth. But it’s certainly better than nothing. Jenny Schlecht is Agweek’s editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.
SEPTEMBER 2021 SOUTH DAKOTA FARM & RANCH 11
Reward offered for information about large-scale cattle death case By Masaki Ova The Jamestown Sun
JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office and the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association are enlisting the public’s help to solve a case involving more than 58 dead pregnant cows in a pasture on the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. The Sheriff’s Office and the Stockmen’s Association announced a reward of up to $40,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the cattle deaths on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at a press conference in Jamestown. Brian Amundson, owner of Bar V Ranch south of Buchanan, discovered 58 pregnant cattle that were dead John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun on July 29 in a pasture Brian Amundson, owner of Bar V Ranch north of Jamestown, addresses a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 1. More than 58 dead leased for grazing on cows were found in a pasture leased for grazing on the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge in July. At right is Maj. Jason Falk, an
REWARD: Page 13
investigator with the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Department.
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the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. Of the 80 surviving cows, at least 15 have aborted their calves that were expected to be born in September. “This is a significant loss to the Amundson family,” said Blaine Northrop, chief brand inspector for the Stockmen’s Association. Northrop said the loss of the cows is valued at almost $100,000, which does not include the value of the calves that the 58 cattle were carrying or the 15 calves that were aborted by the cows that survived. Amundson said he checked on the cattle on July 23 and found the dead cows on July 29. He said it was in the middle of the breeding season, so they were busy working other cattle at the time. The case may or may not be connected to two separate fires — one on April 10 and another on April 22 — on the
Amundson ranch that destroyed more than 2,000 bales valued at almost $200,000, said Maj. Jason Falk, an investigator with the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office. He said the fires are still under investigation and believed to be arson. Dr. Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist, said veterinary diagnostics and clinical observations have ruled out lightning, anthrax, bluegreen algae, clostridial disease, lead poisoning, lack of water and naturally-occurring nitrates as the cause of the cattle deaths. He said some causes were ruled out because they don’t fit the category of being a “point source event,” which means it is an incident that kills many animals in a short period of time. “Without being able to stand on a 100 percent certainty of this, it is my opinion that somehow these cattle had access to non-naturally-occur-
Photos by John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
Dr. Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist, visits with the media on Wednesday, Sept. Blaine Northrop, North Dakota Stockmen’s 1, in regard to a large-scale cattle death case in Association chief brand inspector, talks during a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 1, in regard to Stutsman County. a large-scale cattle death case in Stutsman County. ring nitrates and that can come from a number of different sources,” he said. If it is nitrate toxicity, Stokka said one way to accomplish that is through cattle eating dry urea. “They basically commit suicide when that takes place and it doesn’t take very much,” he said.
“That is just one possible way that this could have happened, whether it is dry urea or it was placed in the water.” The reward includes up to $10,000 from the Stockmen’s Association’s brand inspection program and up to $4,000 from the association’s membership with an additional $26,000
from the Amundson family. “We are asking for our community, our industry and anybody that possibly knows anything to please share that with us,” Amundson said. “Come forward because I truly do not want this to happen again for our operation or anybody
else that is in the beef industry.” If anyone has any information, contact the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office at 701251-6362, Northrop at (701) 390-2975 or Fred Frederikson, Stockmen’s Association deputy brand inspector, at (701) 2903993.
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South Dakota’s hemp industry takes shape one year into legalization despite challenges By Sam Fosness Mitchell Republic MITCHELL, S.D. — After the first year of hemp being legalized for South Dakota producers to grow and sell as a commodity crop, agriculture experts provided some useful tips Wednesday, Aug. 18, to help grow the industry. Derrick Dohman, a hemp producer and sales manager of Horizon Hemp Seeds in Willow Lake, South Dakota, delved into the process of growing the crops, suggesting the best practice is to “plant it, and wave goodbye” until harvest. Dohman was one of four agriculture experts who hosted a discussion on the state’s launching of the hemp industry during the second day of Dakotafest in Mitchell. “We’ve seen tremendous success. Some fields look absolutely phenomenal in places that have had some more moisture than others,” Dohman said, noting his hemp plants received about 5 to 6 inches of rainfall this year, helping produce 11-foot tall plants. “Fertility is kind of hit and miss depending on what was planted there in previous years. There is nothing you can spray on this crop, and the plant itself is your weed control. The trial is in the harvest. So we are going to learn a lot this year.” Dohman stressed to the crowd gathered around the panel at Dakotafest that cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD — which has become a popular pain relieving alternative — isn’t the only avenue to produce hemp and flip a profit. CBD is one of many chemical properties found in cannabis and is derived from hemp. What differentiates CBD from cannabis,
Sam Fosness / Republic
Derek Schiefelbein, left, Derrick Dohman and Ken Meyer discuss the state’s rollout of the hemp industry during a discussion panel Wednesday at Dakotafest in Mitchell, South Dakota. or marijuana, is that it lacks a certain level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that’s found in marijuana, which is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the “high” effect. Under state and federal law, CBD that’s legally sold and distributed can’t have over 0.3% of THC. “A lot of people ultimately think CBD right away. They don’t realize there is a grain and fiber industry, which has been around for a long time,” Dohman said. “Not saying one is better than the other, but do your homework on it before you plant. It’s still the wild west out there with some guys trying to sell bad genetics to make a quick buck, so make sure your seed is certified.” In its first year of legalization, Derek Schiefelbein, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources program manager, said the state issued 19 licenses for producers who
are growing the crop. According to Schiefelbein, there were 2,240 acres of hemp that were planted in 2020. “Some people bowed out with the hot, dry weather. But some folks put some acres in that did get some rain and germinated,” he said. “A little bit of that is for the CBD hemp, while the rest is grain and fiber hemp.” In states where hemp production has been legal, Schiefelbein said producers were primarily growing the crop to be processed into CBD. However, South Dakota saw more producers cultivate the crop into fiber and grain that can be used in foods, clothing and a long list of other products. Oren Lesmeister, a member of the South Dakota Farmers Union Board of Directors, has high hopes for the future of the state’s hemp industry, highlighting the wide variety of uses of the plant. “There are so many things that we can do with this product. It’s
unbelievable. Whether it’s in the CBD oil extraction or the fiber end of things, it’s unbelievable what you can do with hemp,” Lesmeister said, noting there are more than 17,000 products that are made with hemp. “This product has been around forever. It’s used in brake pads, clothing and so many other things.”
Challenges hampering launch of state’s hemp industry
For a successful hemp program to develop in the state, Dohman said more progress needs to be made on the banking and insurance side of things. As hemp went through years of legal grey areas, some banks have not jumped on board with the state’s recent legalization of the plant. That has complicated business for Dohman, as he’s had to work with a North Dakota bank to get his hemp operation running since he couldn’t
find one in his area that would do business with him. “We’ve tried to come into the state and we can’t do business with them. I know multiple other states around us are welcoming hemp growers with open arms,” he said. “It surprises me that they would threaten customers who have been with them for 40 to 50 years. I think it will get there, but it comes back to education to clear up some of that grey matter otherwise it will never move forward.” While growing hemp crops has its own set of challenges, processing the plant into the various ways to be used by consumers for producers to flip a profit can be just as difficult. Ken Meyer, vice president of AH Meyers and Sons near Howard, has been growing and processing hemp primarily into CBD oil at his operation. On the processing side, Meyer, who was the first entity to receive a South Dakota hemp processing
license, said he offers hemp producers to cash out by selling the hemp biomass, which includes the stalks, seeds and leaves of the plant once the flowers have been cultivated. “We are able to provide extracting CBD oil for hemp producers. One thing that’s really different with hemp crops, is that most people have to go and sell their own product if they want to do better financially. Most people and farmers take their product all the way to a retail entity,” Meyer said. While Meyer said the hemp market has been volatile at times in recent years, he’s optimistic for the future. “In general, the market was really high three years ago. Prices were up for both biomass and oil, but they are down,” Meyer said. “The good news is indications are that it has bottomed out and is climbing up as the market sorts itself out and more become involved.”
SEPTEMBER 2021 SOUTH DAKOTA FARM & RANCH 15
Organic Valley farms in southeastern Minn. grateful they made the turn to organic By Noah Fish Agweek GOODHUE, Minnesota - Members of the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers feel fortunate they became specialized and stayed small during a time when many producers doubled down on expansion. As conventional dairy markets have turned more unstable in recent years, the market for organic milk has been stable. That’s good news for the 1,800 farmer-owners of Organic Valley. The cooperative says in 2020 it had its fourth consecutive year of total sales exceeding $1.1 billion, and a “significant improvement in net earnings from ongoing operations,” compared to 2018 results. Organic Valley recorded a net loss of $2.5 million in 2018 and improved to $4.5 million in 2019. Organic Valley members Dennis and Ruth Buck are the third generation to farm their family’s land in Goodhue County, where they currently milk 120 cows. They purchased the operation from Dennis’ mother in 1998 and made the switch to organic a year later. By 2003, the Bucks were selling milk to Organic Valley. Two robotic milking machines were installed at the farm in 2015 in order for the couple and their six children to be the operation’s only workers. Three of the couple’s six children are now interested in becoming the fourth generation to farm the land, after they’re finished with school. Ruth Buck said even if that does happen and their operation grows, they won’t expand the size of their dairy herd. “We are committed to that 120 — and really couldn’t go bigger because our land base matches that,” said Buck. “But with three possible kids back, we
Photos by Noah Fish / Agweek
Cows in the pasture at Zweber Family Farm in Elko, Minn., on Aug. 23. ence in La Crosse, Wisconsin, they decided it was time to go all-in on organic, because if they didn’t, the transition wouldn’t work. By 1999, the Bucks were transitioning to organic, after only a year raising conventional dairy. “One bad year was all I could handle,” said Buck.
Passing the high bar The Zweber family poses for a picture with U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (right) on a visit to their farm in Elko, Minn., on Aug. 23. might have to do something else — it just won’t be expanding the dairy.” Her husband runs the farm side of the operation and she does all the accounting. Buck said the stability of the market for organic milk is what influenced their decision to get into the market. “It stabilized how big we were going to get, because two robots can only milk about that many cows,” she said.
One bad year
The prices for conventional milk weren’t
cutting it for the couple in their first year running the operation. Ruth Buck said after watching her husband work dawn to dusk every day to earn “about $2,500 at the end of the year,” she started thinking of ways they could make an operation actually work financially. Her idea at the time was to scale up — they had 100 cows at the time. Her husband disagreed. “He was adamant that he didn’t want to manage people,” she said of Dennis Buck. “He want-
16 SOUTH DAKOTA FARM & RANCH SEPTEMBER 2021
ed to stay the size that we were and somehow make it that at that point.” The couple started talking to a neighboring organic operation to find out what it took to get certified, and if the industry gave producers a fair shot. “The more we asked questions, the more we were like, this is how we want to farm,” she said. The couple’s children were young at the time but they were thinking about opportunities for them in the future. On their way back from an organic farming confer-
Getting certified organic and keeping that certification is a big undertaking for the small operations that take it on, said Buck, and if challenges do arise it often comes during inspections. “It’s quite a lengthy inspection when they come once a year, and (third-party inspectors) can be at your farm from six to eight hours, checking every pasture and going through all your paperwork for the year,” she said. “It’s necessary to make sure you either grew the crops or bought the crops organically to feed what you have on the farm.” In 2003 in the early years of their transi-
tion, the Bucks had their only misstep which was caught in the inspection process. “They literally go through every ingredient of every input, or every seed you use,” she said. That year they had unknowingly used a seed that wasn’t permitted. In an inspection process there can be minor incompliances and major incompliances, and their mistake was a major. “Those fields where that seed was put into, we had to re-transition them for three years,” she said, forcing them to adapt to have enough feed for the cows. “I think that was actually a really good thing to happen to us.” She said it not only taught them the strictness of the process but to be prepared for an alternative to what they planned for. Be ready for things to go wrong, like this year’s dry weather. “As an accountant, I always say you should budget for the fact that at least once every six
ORGANIC: Page 17
ORGANIC From Page 16
years, you’re gonna have feed that isn’t good,” she said. “Plan for it, and save up for it — because with the weather, that’s how it is.” After almost two decades of producing and selling organic, Ruth said she doesn’t know what their life would be like if they wouldn’t went down the other road of expanding. “Organic has been a blessing for us — and truly was a good fit for our family.”
Another Organic Valley member farm in southeast Minnesota is Zweber Family Farms, which has been in production since 1906 in the rolling hills of Scott County. The town of Elko where the family has always farmed is now more subdivisions than it is crops. Fourth generation farmer Tim Zweber said the farm has its roots in dairy but also sells organic beef, chicken and pork. In the fastest growing suburb of the Twin Cities, he said they’ve found a local market of families who’ve moved to the area in recent years.
He said they’ve been with Organic Valley ever since they transitioned to organic, in 2007. “It was kind of about that time that organic was really ramping up,” he said. “And the profitability was good because the market was growing really well.” Zweber credits the founders of Organic Valley in the ‘80s who put in the leg work to make the co-op into something that could grow itself over time. He said up until recently, the demand for organic continued to grow. “It’s kind of leveled off
more now,” he said. “The market is more mature than it was back then.” But Zweber doesn’t think the organic industry is heading down from here. Even if there is a slowdown in demand, he prefers selling product in a market that’s nothing like the conventional one. “In the conventional world, it just takes one year when we have a lot of milk, and all of a sudden it’s all on sale,” Zweber said. “Just give it away for a dollar a gallon, and never mind what this will do to the market.”
Like the Buck family, Zweber said he feels better off as an organic farmer because the market can be understood and predicted. Unlike the organic market, the conventional side is “based on nonsensical government calculations,” he said. “The government is really heavily involved in how they figure out the price of conventional milk, and there’s only so many big processors and they’re in that mix, too,” he said. “It’s all a really strange system that I’m glad I’m not in.”
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Owners John and Emily Beaton stand with a garden rake, broadfork and their golden retriever Bonus at Fairhaven Farm on Aug. 2 in Saginaw, Minnesota.
Saginaw couple brings big vision to their little farm By Melinda Lavine Duluth News Tribune SAGINAW, Minn. — Emily Beaton stepped on the neck of a broadfork. It pierced the soil, and she rocked a bit back and forth. “This is humanscale farming,” she said. “We can do everything with our bodies.” A broadfork and a garden rake are more accessible than a tractor, said John Beaton. “This gives power to the people with not that many resources,” he added. The couple runs Fairhaven Farm, a Saginaw-based, small-scale operation producing organic veggies, herbs, fruits and a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. Walking the gardening grounds of their 27 acres, a train of ducks hobbled by. “We’ll use the eggs, but the primary purpose is to introduce fertility into the garden,” John said. With the help of friends, they built a wood-burning boiler to heat their high tunnel, and their greenhouse has south-facing windows and is open to the earth. In it grew a fig tree, a peach tree, some lavender and rosemary. A praying mantis clung to a leaf.
It was introduced with some ladybugs as a natural way to manage pests, too. Greenhouse plants in the spring and fresh garden vegetables in the summer are Fairhaven’s two enterprises. The greenhouse allows for some security, but as with all farming, it’s simple, but complicated, John said. “What you’re truly doing is learning to coax life from the soil. … You understand that you can create something that’s beautiful and that’s going to feed you and feed other people,” he added. Ryan and Julie Jagim of Duluth are among Fairhaven’s 50 CSA households, and they’ve been with John since the beginning. They recalled a change in John’s CSA shares when he met his now-wife and business partner. “We laugh because all of a sudden, these little bouquets of flowers were in the shares. We’d go, ‘That isn’t typical John.’ … We knew there was another influence there,” Ryan said. The connection with food, the earth and how we take care of one another, including the planet, is important to the Beatons, and their
practices reflect that, he added. Together, the Beatons exude enthusiasm and optimism for the future, Julie said. “There are many people under the impression that in this geology and in this area, things don’t grow well. That really isn’t true, as we’ve experienced through them,” she added. More than organic farming, they’re trying to ensure folks have a desire to follow and succeed on that path. “This is something he’s doing for the greater good, for the community and for our whole region,” Ryan said. John serves on the Lake Superior Sustainable Farming Association, the Duluth Young Farmers Coalition, and he helped launch a St. Louis County chapter of Minnesota Farmers Union. He’s also a land access navigator for nonprofit Renewing the Countryside, which means he works with new farmers, advocates for the area and helps folks find land. “The small farmers, the 40 acres, the house and a barn and a tractor, it’s here. It’s not anywhere else,” he said.
COUPLE: Page 19
18 SOUTH DAKOTA FARM & RANCH SEPTEMBER 2021
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From Page 18
It’s a very unique environment in the Northland where you can still find that, and it’s still affordable. Growing in this area comes preloaded with challenges, Beaton said, so, if we can figure out how to do it, then we can be an example to the state and flip the narrative. Instead of being overlooked, now, we’re leaders in the farming community. That’s our goal in the north, he said. “Wherever there’s grass, there could be food growing. The only thing preventing utopia and abundance of everything is knowing that and not doing it,” he said. John grew up in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where his grandparents restored and ran what became Fairhaven Resort. Naming their operation Fairhaven Farm is a way to honor his grandfather, and it encompasses their values. “Fairhaven just brings up this feeling of safety and happiness and abundance. That’s what we’re trying to embody up here. Fairhaven of the north,” he said. Beaton worked the Seeds
of Success program at Community Action Duluth, and he studied food systems and anthropology at the University of Minnesota Duluth. After interning at Northern Harvest Farm, he launched his own CSA. Emily grew up in the Twin Cities, and her life’s work took a turn after trying organically farmed veg during a potluck. “It was the first time I had really tasted vegetables because they were prepared in a way that was honoring the vegetable, celebrating the vegetable,” she recalled. From there, she grew microgreens on her windowsill, interned at a farm. She eventually sold microgreens through her operation, Pocket Farms. She met her now-partner in life while they were both selling veggies at a farmers’ market. They had the same values and business goals, they’d both taken a farm beginnings course and had similar background and training. From there, things acceler-
ated quickly, John said. They met in fall 2015, and in 2017, they bought the farm, which was also the location of their wedding. It was always their goal to create a gathering place for people to come and experience farm-fresh food. “I wanted other people to have that same experience that I had because it changed my life,” Emily said. It takes a long time to access land, and they had a lot of help from family and friends, which is a privilege that drives their mission to help others. “Feeding 50 families, that’s not going to save the world, but if we can have others build their own little farm, to get other people to come and get inspired or grow food … for our benefit and the future benefits, we need more farms,” John said. Ted Johnson of Duluth’s Blue Forest Plants Nursery rents a patch of land on Fairhaven Farm. The collaboration allows Johnson more space to propagate his berry bushes and fruit trees, and it allows room for the Beatons to diversify their offerings. Johnson said he’s aware of other businesses sharing
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goods, but not space like this. It seems unique, but it’s in line with the Beatons’ mission, he said. “They’re dedicated to using their farm to help others, whether that’s through education, experience, maybe access to land,” Johnson said. They’re a model for a lot of people regarding healthy food systems. They also operate in the wider area of ideas and vision and view themselves as a community connector — that’s what they really do well, he added. The Beatons came across their farm by word of mouth. The former home to Grassroots Farm was cultivated and developed by Linda Ward and Steven Chadwick. The couple embraced sustainable practices and farmed exclusively with horses. Their reach expanded beyond the farm. Chadwick helped develop initiatives to create affordable housing throughout Minnesota, he was the executive director of the Duluth Community Action Program Inc., he launched the community garden program, among other things. Now we get to carry on some of that advocacy work, John said.
Ward was very specific regarding the sale of her land; she wanted farmers to take over, Emily recalled. The Beatons made a handshake agreement to buy the farm, they moved in and worked the land for nine month. “We watched all of her emotions as she detached from the farm,” John recalled. “When we dug up the field for quackgrass, she knew we were for real.” “We were able to build that trust,” added Emily. (The News Tribune’s attempts to reach Ward went unanswered as of press time.) After they bought the farm, the first order of business was to build a woodfire oven. They knew this would be important for the future for sustenance and for gathering, and they found it had added significance. “Steve and Linda used to grow wheat. … Steve’s ashes were scattered in the wheat field because that’s what he loved, so now we brought a bread oven to the wheat field. “It’s just magical; you can’t make that up,” John said.
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74 HP, 2,800 LB. RATED OPERATING CAPACITY
74 HP, 3,700 LB. RATED OPERATING CAPACITY
• SUPER BOOM Vertical Lift provides more dump height & reach, and maximizes 360° in-cab visibility. • 8 in. LCD Display with integrated Back-Up Camera • Auto Straight Line Tracking & Creep Mode (EH models) • New Control Buttons & Joysticks • Increased Durability & Longevity
SUNBELT SOLAR DEGRADABLE PLASTIC TWINE
Part No. 110 lb. x 20,000 ft. part #NH20000X110SD
Part No. 130 lb. x 20,000 ft. part #NH20000X110SNBY
$29.00 WINMORE PLASTIC TWINE $25.00
“Where SERVICE Means More Than The Sale Itself”
2800 W. Havens Mitchell, SD
*For commercial use only. Customer participation subject to credit qualification and approval by CNH Industrial Capital America LLC. See your New Holland dealer for details and eligibility requirements. CNH Industrial Capital America LLC standard terms and conditions will apply. Down payment may be required. Not all customers or applicants may qualify. Offer good until September 30, 2021, at participating New Holland dealers in the United States. Taxes, freight, set-up, delivery, additional options or attachments not included in suggested retail price. Offer subject to change or cancellation without notice. © 2021 CNH Industrial America LLC. All rights reserved. CNH Industrial Capital and New Holland are trademarks registered in the United States and many other countries, owned by or licensed to CNH Industrial N.V., its subsidiaries or affiliates.
20 SOUTH DAKOTA FARM & RANCH SEPTEMBER 2021
Check out this September 2021 edition of your South Dakota Farm & Ranch by the Mitchell Republic! #MitchellSD #HifromSD #agnews #FarmLiving...
Published on Sep 8, 2021
Check out this September 2021 edition of your South Dakota Farm & Ranch by the Mitchell Republic! #MitchellSD #HifromSD #agnews #FarmLiving...