Prairie Farm Pilot Project – Transitioning from Conventional to Organic Farming

Project Overview

FNC06-625
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $18,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, millet, oats, rapeseed, rye, sunflower, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: turnips
  • Additional Plants: trees
  • Animals: bees, bovine, poultry, goats, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage, parasite control, animal protection and health, grazing - continuous, feed additives, feed formulation, free-range, feed rations, herbal medicines, homeopathy, manure management, mineral supplements, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, preventive practices, probiotics, range improvement, grazing - rotational, housing, stockpiled forages, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, cooperatives, marketing management, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, risk management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, indicators, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, competition, cultural control, economic threshold, eradication, field monitoring/scouting, physical control, mulching - plastic, cultivation, prevention, smother crops, weather monitoring, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, community services, social capital, social networks, social psychological indicators

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    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.

    Dick Grotberg and Dick Lovestrand are the lead organizers of the Prairie Farm Pilot Project. The Bethany Prairie Farm consists of 440 acres, 400 of which are tillable. The livestock consist of 70 Scottish Highland cows, 12 to 15 head of Highland beef, 53 yearlings and calves, and 3 herd bulls, 10 Welsh mares, and an American Baskin Curly stallion, one milk cow, a dozen Saanen milking goats, 300 broilers and 150 laying hens. The animals are all part of our bio-diverse, holistic, synergistic, farming plan which is: healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy animals = healthy meat, eggs, and milk = healthy people. Large gardens, fruit trees, vines, and an all season greenhouse contribute to our household sustainability. We are committed to sustainable, organic, responsible agriculture and convinced that it is our responsibility to teach the concept to others.

    Our Partners in this project are: Kelly Severson, 9931 20th St. SE, Wimbledon, ND 58492 owns and rents approximately 1200 of conventionally farmed grain land. Kelly has 15 acres on which he wants to begin growing alternative organic crops. Josh and Carolyn Abraham, 10830 6th St. SE, Hannaford, ND 58448, Josh and Carolyn have a 20 acre farm and are working to make it completely sustainable. When the Abrahams have children they want to be able to have Carolyn quit her off the farm job. Sam and Laura Leppert, 1827 106th Ave SE, Dazey, ND 58429, with their home schooled children, farm organically on about 1000 acres and raise purebred Milking Shorthorns.

    Bethany Prairie Farm has been Dick Grotberg’s home since the 1940’s. It has been farmed conventionally since the 1950’s. In 2004 we went out of confinement hogs and began purchasing Scottish Highland cattle. From 2004 to the present date we have practiced and begun to practice sustainable management practices with the cattle. In 2005 and 2006 we began our whole farm sustainability project.

    DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    Goals and Objectives: The Prairie Farm Pilot Project. The goal of this grant was to turn a conventional chemically dependent farm into a fertile, sustainable, organic, farming unit. We will restore the Bethany Prairie Farm (BPF) to organic sustainability with a bio-diverse, holistic, synergistic, organic, sustainable farming plan which is: healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy animals = healthy meat, eggs and milk = healthy people.

    Objective 1: To make an integrated grain/livestock small farm sustainable at the pre 1950 average acreage before chemicals came into general use as a way of life. We will address the objective of the pre 1950 sustainable farming model with the following goals.
    • We grew all crops and grasses (with varying degrees of success) on the Bethany Prairie Farm by going “cold turkey” to farm without chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides).
    • We established a soil base line and will conduct further testing on a regular basis.
    • Bethany Prairie Farm’s livestock was pastured on annual forages, aftermath and residues during this first transition year.
    • Our farming plans left residue and incorporated green manures to improve soil tilth. We used natural products, plants, and multi-species animals to improve soil fertility and for weed and pest control. We imported CRP hay and bale grazed on the crop land.
    • The group researched, learned, and made use of expert advisors to restore our chemically dependent soils to full health and to make the most of crops and livestock integration in the preparation for organic production.

    Objective 2: To maintain economic viability during the transition from conventional to organic agriculture.
    • Farmers Dick Grotberg, Dick Lovestrand, Kelly Severson, Josh Abraham, and Sam Leppert worked together to compare conventional and organic farming practices, to evaluate various tillage techniques, and to incorporate additional skills into the pilot project.
    • On the Bethany Prairie Farm, Dick Grotberg managed the planting of a rotation of cereal grains, oil seeds, corn, and field peas. Dick Lovestrand managed the Highland Cattle and keep records of the progress.
    • The organic certification process began in 2007 and will be completed by 2010.
    • The procedure to make the transition from conventional to organic farming on 400 acres of cropland on Bethany Prairie Farm was carried out by incorporating the following cropping practices: – Dual purpose crops – Midseason planting – Double cropping – Nurse/companion cropping – Winter grains – Volunteer crops.

    Objective 3: To provide year around grazing for 70 Highland cow/calf units, and 10 Welsh mares and their Curly foals.
    • By incorporating the following practices we found ways to provide forage: multiple cropping, cover crops, sowing additional crops within row crops, aftermath grazing, and pastures which include a diverse mixture of grasses.
    • We integrated crops and livestock in East Central ND by utilizing the full season for grain and forage.
    • We fenced and cross fenced all of the land on BPF to utilize the crop/livestock integration concept, aftermath grazing, grazing of annual planted grain crops, and annual forage crops.

    PROCESS
    The following is a narrative by the lead organizers for the Prairie Farm Pilot Project of the process, the people, the results, and the course of our journey.

    Our Vision:
    Dick Lovestrand – After the hog operation met its orderly demise, we began to ask questions about health and nutrition. We read, read, read about the other side of agriculture. The side of agriculture where the growing medium (Soil) is high on the priority list. We read about health, sickness, and disease.

    Some of our reading took us into the classics of health. Our parents could have read the authors who have opened our eyes to the pathetic health and nutritional quicksand we have walked into.

    Some of our reading showed us that true health is a triangle whose sides are thinking right, living right, and eating right. Concentrating on just one side – say, eating right does not ensure health. Positive thinking alone does not ensure health if we neglect proper foods and right attitudes in living.

    We have come to understand that if, indeed God made us from the dust of the ground, then the food that we eat needs to come from healthy vibrant soil; soil that will produce food that the body will recognize.

    Rebuilding soil that will sustain healthy vegetation for grazing animals is not a quick process. We have come to understand that natural fertilizer (animal manure and green manure) is a must for healthy soil.

    There are many books on the need for healthy soil, many more on the need for healthy foods. From what we have heard and read, we are convinced that the same soil from which humanity was made cries out to us for our respect. The soil says to us, “treat me right and I’ll provide you with an abundance of living food.

    In the spring of 2007 we decided to sell 160 acres of land that was not immediately connected to the rest of Bethany Prairie Farm in order to clear the debt on the farm. This left 440 acres to farm naturally that we might be able to farm in such a way as to be a true pilot project.

    We needed to be able to show by example that farming naturally is an option for every farmer who has the heart for it. With that in mind we record our ideas, impressions, facts, and circumstances.

    Dick Grotberg consulted with many organic farmers to glean information regarding (1) “how to”, (2) “when to”, (3) “where to”, (4) “how to get”, (5) “where to get”, (6) “Why re-invent the wheel”? Ask, ask, ask. Ask again. Don‘t be afraid to ask. Sure, these are all opinions. Everything that is a fact today was at sometime only an opinion. Ask questions, but don’t simply be satisfied with an opinion answer. Ask for reasons. Ask for “Why do you do it this way?”

    Dick Grotberg – In 2007 we started organic farming on 440 acres with a transition period of 3 years – to be able to market our produce organically on land that had been conventionally farmed since the early 1940’s. For the past 15 to 20 years our cropland was cash rented out and was farmed in 100 acre or larger fields – no pastures, just grain with no contour farming. Ours is a Barnes loam soil in NW Barnes County. We are a Coteau region with rolling terrain and many potholes that hold water temporally with some more permanent ones. The goal then, was to crop as much as possible by draining every low area to make larger fields and straight lines for speed and efficiency. Since then we have learned that getting bigger is not better when it comes to real stewardship and sustainability.

    In 2007 we began on the Prairie Farm Pilot Project. Our fields now are approximately 25 to 44 acres each. Our numerous fields are designed to follow the contours of the land. With a 9 year rotation, they include grasses and numerous small grain crops. It is now all about building healthy soil. Our Highland cattle are so helpful. All the land is fenced with high tensile electric fences. We rotate graze the grass and as well graze harvest after mass. 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. This is called bale grazing.

    I said to my wife Linda, and longtime partner Dick Lovestrand, “Is it possible for me to become a 70 year old ‘beginning farmer’?” These are exciting decisions for us in spite of my age, I only wish we had started this years ago. In the past we thought bigness and bottom lines, regardless of what these thoughts and acts did to our soil and our lives and our community.

    Linda Grotberg – Our plan to move into organic farming began a couple of years ago as we developed an upscale market for our Scottish Highland beef. In realizing that we are what we eat and our cattle are what they eat, we became convinced that the cattle must eat the most wholesome food possible. That included what the food was and how it was grown. We have come the full circle. 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. Our Holistic Management Quality of Life Statement is, “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.”

    Our Soil: Our goal was to establish a base line of our soil’s health in order to both compare and measure the success of the project. Many hours went into the planning process. We searched for a soil scientist who had time and was willing to think “out of the box”. Our excitement could not be contained when that team finally came together. The following is the plan for the research and a list of the people involved in the study.

    NORTH DAKOTA ON-FARM SOIL QUALITY MONITORING PROJECT, Grotberg Farm

    Susan Samson-Liebig, Soil Quality Specialist, USDA-NRCS, Bismarck, ND Laura Overstreet, Soil Microbiologist, NDSU, Fargo, ND
    Fred Aziz, Area Soil Scientist Area II, USDA-NRCS, Jamestown, ND
    Lance Duey, Soil Scientist, MLRA 55 A & B, Devils Lake, ND
    Earnie Jenson, MLRA 55A&B Soil Survey Leader, Devils Lake, ND
    Sara Kloster, Agronomist, Valley City, ND
    Kris Nichols, Soil Microbiologist, USDA-ARS, Mandan, ND

    Advisors: Mark Liebig, Soil Scientist, USDA-ARS, Mandan, ND, Dick and Linda Grotberg, Wimbledon, ND, Steve Zwinger, Research Agronomist, NDSU Carrington, ND, David Podoll, Master Organic Farmer, Fullerton, ND

    PURPOSE: This study will monitor changes in soil quality in contrasting land management practices over time. In particular, this study will examine the transition from conventional to organic farming in the Midwest and the corresponding changes in soil biology, fertility, etc. Evaluations will be conducted on-farm for paired no-till organic, conventional tillage, and pastureland on the Dick and Linda Grotberg farm near Wimbledon, North Dakota. The study will increase understanding regarding the current state of soil quality in North Dakota as well as a baseline for a system converting from conventional agriculture to organic. The study will also increase understanding of contrasting land management effects on soil quality over time. Additionally, data collected during the course of the study will help in understanding carbon sequestration potential and nutrient movement under organic no-till, conventional tillage, and grazed pastureland and cropland, thereby expanding the knowledge base regarding the environmental sustainability of each management system. Evaluation sites will be used to demonstrate benefits of conservation-oriented management practices on soil quality, carbon sequestration, and agricultural productivity.

    OBJECTIVES:
    1. Determine the state of soil quality on selected sites on the Grotberg Farm;
    2. Determine the rate of change in soil quality with various management practices such as no-till, organic crop production, conventional till, and pastureland;
    3. Evaluate the changes in select soil properties as they relate to soil survey. This will be used as one test site for the development of incorporating use-dependent soil properties into soil survey updates.

    APPROACH:
    1. Site Selection: Sites will be located on the same geomorphic setting and soil series. Each location will have up to three treatments: one site in organic no-till with diverse cropping system, conventional tillage, and one in grass or permanent pasture. Sites will be located within a 2-mile radius while being on the same geomorphic setting and soil series.

    2. A site characterization worksheet will be completed with input from the producer that will include data such as name, time in production of the site, tillage/residue management, crop rotation, crop yields, fertilizer use (type, amount applied, and method of application), grazing plan, unusual events if any, and additional information as needed.

    3. Sample soil and evaluate above ground plant biomass. Soil samples from each site will be evaluated on three-year time-steps for selected soil chemical, physical, and biological properties considered as indicators of soil quality.

    4. Determine the effects of land use on soil quality indicators. In doing so, evaluate soil organic carbon gain/loss as a result of management.

    5. Determine relationships of use-dependent properties (dynamic soil properties such as infiltration, etc.) for each soil.

    6. Evaluate the economics of the various farming systems as related to inputs and outputs.

    7. Evaluate the energy balance of each site as related to soil quality and carbon sequestration if possible.

    METHODS:
    Soil Sampling Method.
    Soil samples will be collected by using a soils probe to a 1m depth for each treatment. For statistical proposes, satellite samples will be taken down to a depth of 100cm from four separate areas located near each other. All sample points will be located via GPS. Samples will be taken for evaluation of soil physical, chemical, and biological properties. Field measurements will include, but are not limited to, analyses in the Soil Quality Kit (infiltration, EC, pH, nitrate and nitrite, soil respiration), and labile soil carbon using the Weil Labile C method.

    Soil samples will be collected from 0-5, 5-10, 10-25, 25-50, and 50-100cm. Timing of sampling will be after harvest. Samples collected for soil microbial biomass will be kept cool and immediately transported to the laboratory for analyses.

    Estimated staff time for field sampling is approximately 1-2 days Susan Liebig will be responsible for collecting data using the Soil Quality Test kit and running the active carbon method on each sample.

    Photographs will be taken at each treatment at the time of sampling.

    Plant Sampling Method.
    Cooperating producer will be asked to document crop yield for field sites.

    Re-sampling of the surface layers after 3, 6, and 9-year intervals:
    At 3, 6, and 9 years after the initial sampling, plots will be resampled following the protocol outlined above. Analyses will include bulk density, total C and –N, aggregate stability, POM, soil microbial biomass C and N, soil pH, total and plant available P. Resampling using these time intervals will assess short-, mid-, and long-term changes in selected soil properties.

    Laboratory Analysis at the National Soil Survey Center, Lincoln, NE:
    • Soil physical characterizations: soil particle size distribution (PSDA) on all depths; water-soluble clay on top three layers sampled; aggregate stability.
    • Soil chemical characterizations: total C and N; calcium carbonate; soil pH; cation exchange capacity (CEC) and total cations and anions; extractable acidity; electrical conductivity; total salts; total elemental P and plant available phosphorus via Olsen P method on all depths.

    Laboratory Analysis at the USDA-ARS-Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory, Mandan, ND:
    • Soil physical measurements: soil bulk density on all depths collected.
    • Soil chemical measurement: active soil carbon on top two depths.
    • Soil biological characterizations: Particulate organic matter (POM) and glomalin on the 0-5, 5-10, and 10-25cm depths. Will do soil microbial biomass if possible.
     Particulate organic matter is a fraction of soil organic matter composed mainly of plant residues. It is considered an intermediately labile fraction of soil organic matter, decomposing quickly in comparison to organic matter in whole soil.
     Microbial biomass refers to the microfauna present in soil. Microbial biomass is an important indicator of soil quality, functioning as an agent for the transformation and cycling of organic matter and plant nutrients. Furthermore, because of its responsiveness to management, microbial biomass can be a sensitive indicator of trends in soil organic matter levels.
     Glomalin is a glycoprotein produced by mycorrhizal fungi and is an important component of soil organic matter. It is referred to as “soil glue” or “scum”.
     Where applicable, laboratory data will be expressed on an oven-dry, volumetric basis using field-measured soil bulk density.

    Other Analysis:
    • Phospholipid Fatty Acid Analysis (PLFA). Ann Kennedy is able to run if we can secure funding to do this. Phospholipids fatty acids (PLFA) are essentially the “skin” of the microbe (microbial membrane) and provide a quantitative tool for assessing microbial responses to their environment. PLFA analysis provides a broad based description of the entire microbial community with information obtained about viable biomass concentrations, community composition, and metabolic status.

    BENEFITS OF THE STUDY:
    The data collected from this study will provide feedback to land owners and provide training opportunities for NRCS field staff and others on issues related to soil quality. Collaborating with ARS and NDSU will help foster research in soil quality to expand the knowledge base in North Dakota. Presentations will be produced from data generated. The data will provide farmers information to evaluate the benefits and costs of different farming practices, thereby allowing them to make more informed management decisions. This will also serve as a baseline for soil quality on a system that is in the process of conversion to an organic system. At this point, few studies have been conducted on farming systems that are transitioning from conventional systems to organic. In addition, this study incorporates rotational grazing on pasturelands as well as cropped sites. This system will be a “closed” system.

    Our Fences. In the very early planning stages of this project, we realized that fences would be the key component. We thought fences, talked fences, dreamed fences! We decided that every field would need to be fenced and be accessible any time of any given year. This would be an unusual undertaking in a county in which probably no other farm has every field individually fenced with some more cross fencing besides.

    We learned how to build and maintain high tensile electric fences. The fences now encircle every field, with some more fences to provide cross fencing for permanent paddocks and pastures. Another part of the challenge was that our fields are laid out with the contour of the land, so many of the fences are not fencing squares and rectangles. Lanes with more or less permanent fences provide access to the fields at any time

    We knew that our fencing had truly made a statement when someone came into the yard and asked what kind of animal the big tall fence by the driveway was keeping in? It was the grape arbor!

    Our Goals for Organic Crop Rotation and Companion Crops. Maintain and build soil quality and fertility with organic matter levels, tilth, water holding capacity and biological activity
    1. Prevent erosion
    2. Promote ecological diversity
    3. Control weeds, pests, and disease
    4. Produce high quality crops
    5. Use less energy

    Things that were considered in designing our rotation were:
    1. Strive for diversity and complexity
    • We planned a nine year rotation with 9 fields of 25 to 40 acres each. The rotation will begin with a legume grass mixture and cereal grain nurse crop in year one, years 2, 3, and 4 will be in pasture and grazed, year 5 the hay will be broken up and planted to winter wheat, years 6,7, 8, and 9 will be planted to grain for harvest with year 10 again planted to grass.
    • Fields 4 and 5 were planted to sunflowers. This was the crop that we would use for crushing to give oil for farm fuel experimentation. Before the second cultivation, these fields were inter-seeded with turnips for aftermath grazing.
    • Field 3 was planted to corn on May 19. Later this was inter-seeded with dwarf Essex rape seed. This crop was grazed by the finisher stock.
    2. Species adapted to our region and varieties that produced the most biomass
    • On 9-12-2007, ten acres in field 9 were dug and broadcast seeded to winter wheat. The winter wheat was a proven northern variety. It was seeded into ground with little cover. We will use natural selection to collect the seed that thrives in adverse conditions.
    3. Regular plantings of deep rooted legumes or other green manure with extensive root systems. Incorporate lengthy periods of no tillage.
    • We prepared approximately 115 acres of 2006 wheat ground and planted about 90 acres of it to several varieties of legumes and grasses. Forty of these acres were planted with US Fish and Wildlife financing, to be pastured for 10 years. All grass will be rotationally grazed and 50 acres will be included in our 9 year crop rotation. Our nurse crop for the grass was 1 bushel of oats per acre – this turned out to be a very weed free, with excellent grass germination, to start 2008 with a beautiful stand of various grasses. The oats yield was approximately 50 bu/acre and good quality. The oats, was a nurse crop, not meant to be a big cash crop.
    4. Reduce number and speed of tillage operations
    • All of the grain crops (millet, oats, field peas) and all of the grass fields were planted with a no-till drill and moderately sized tractor.
    5. Maintain surface residue or growing cover
    • Our goal is to not leave any land uncovered over winter with as little acreage as possible and only short periods of time black in the summer.
    • We learned that rye has natural alleopathes that prevents the growing of several crops and plants. We no-tilled field peas into some of the rye intending to harvest some and graze enough for spring and summer pasture. The lush growth of rye and competing grasses made very good grazing but not for a harvest cash crop. As the fields were grazed down, we planted approximately 50 acres of oil sunflowers, 30 acres of gray millet. All but 50 acres of balance was worked up and put into oats for cover crop, but will be ready for 2008 rotation.
    • We also have a very good start on 10 acres of winter wheat.
    6. Cycle nutrients through livestock.
    • Number 9 was grazed to the bare earth. We learned that the physical action of grazing does something to stimulate root growth. We also learned that the microbes in the soil receive nutrition and stimulation from the physical contact made by the cow’s muzzle. The manure and urine is spread on the field by the cows themselves.
    • Now, (November, December 2007) we are bale grazing on fields 6 and 7. The cows graze the CRP bales that we transport to the field.
    • After preparing 25 acres for corn, Kelly Severson planted 3 varieties of open pollinated corn, for the purpose of grazing each to pasture our butcher cattle. We interseeded rape seed with the last cultivation. This also worked excellent and went according to plan. The cattle will graze the corn field all winter.
    7. Graze stubble/crop residue
    • Fields 6 and 7 were no-tilled to millet and turnips on July 24 and 25 for later grazing. Also, now, (November, December) the cows have access to fields 4 and 5 to graze the sunflower stubble. We have observed that the cows are on certain fields at certain times of the day. They graze the empty flower heads. Also, as a point of interest, one hour before sunset is suckling time. The calves call for their mothers, and the mothers call for their calves.
    • Kelly was also hired to plant our sunflowers. These we interseeded with purple top turnips. Because of late seeding to try to control weeds, and a very late frost our yield was poor, mostly due to excessive blackbird damage. We are now after grazing. The Highlands are loving the sunflower stubble, turnips, and red root pigweeds.

    Our Environment. Sections of some of the fields were flooded by heavy rains. During August as we were mowing the weediest sections, we noticed a large number of good sized frogs – not small frogs or toads. These were big frogs! Later in conversation with David Podoll, we learned that frogs, through their porous skin readily receive the “cides” herbicides and pesticides and die. The abundance of large healthy frogs proved that our eco system was beginning to be restored to health.

    We also have several coveys of partridges and many pheasants. After sunflower harvest and the day after deer season closed, we counted 10 large white tail deer grazing the stalks. We are going into winter with plenty of cover crop – again for healthy soil and animals.

    We rented and harvested CRP hay about 15 miles from here. This is excellent in that we are now adding nutrients to the soil by bale grazing. We were concerned about the cow pies or “frizbees” for next years farming but have found that dung beetles are vigorously working the pies, another plus for healthy soil.

    Our Challenges.
    Lack of Knowledge – Although Dick and Linda Grotberg had grown up on the kind of farm that we were looking to establish, that was a long time ago, and as children they did not make the kind of decisions that now were required. We had all been involved in conventional farming, and confinement livestock for most of our adult lives. We knew very little about how to create the kind of farm that we wanted to have.
    Solution: We replaced all of our reading material with sustainable, organic, green publications. We did lots of networking in person and on the telephone with people who were going in a similar direction. Bethany Prairie Farm enrolled in the FARRM’S Organic 101 course.

    Tradition – Our small pilot project farm is located in the midst of large conventional grain farms. Chemicals, monoculture, and big machinery are the rule. Push came to shove when the renter who had been farming Bethany Prairie Farm for 15 years refused to continue renting if we required organic standards. The renter was the Grotberg’s only farmer son.
    Solution: We came out of retirement and once again began to actively work our farm, which was very much more intense now than before, but much smaller too.

    Contamination – Spray Drift – Ten acres of oats and 5 year pasture were damaged by a local chemical applicator spraying a neighboring field with Round Up.
    Solution: The immediate solution was to work closely with the crop consultant from the offending business to work out a settlement for our losses. The intermediate solution is to create dialog with the chemical applicators and businesses to make them aware of the organic standards concerns. Our long term solution is to plant 2 rows of evergreen trees around our perimeters to create a buffer zone around the farm.

    Cross Pollination – We knew that raising open pollinated grains on a farm surrounded by conventional farms using GMO varieties as a standard practice would be a real challenge.
    Solution: Dick G. talked to all of the neighbors to see what they were planting. This year none of them were planting GMO corn, so our OP corn would not be jeopardy. Another solution will be to time the planting of our OP crops so that the pollination will not be affected by the neighboring GMO varieties.

    Weeds – In May of 2007 we began no-till planting field peas in fields 6, 7, 8, and 9 and several slough areas. Early on it became obvious that there was a competitor crop. The greatest infestation was in fields 6, 7, and 8. Barnes Co Extension Agent Randy Gruneich inspected the fields and collected samples of the weed. He determined that the competitor crop was downy brome, better known as cheat grass. We are not certain how it appeared. It may have come in the rye seed of the fall 2005 seeding. It may have come with the cows from the 2005 pasture in Stutsman County.
    Solution: The decision was made to graze 6, 7, 8, and 9. Also recommended by Kevin Sediveg was mowing (swathing) and baling the growth on these fields which might help us to control the cheat grass. After baling the forage on these fields, 9 could be regrazed. It had the least potential problem with cheat grass. #5, 6, and 7 could be planted to millet for later grazing, and 8 could be planted to millet for cropping. On August 28, David Podoll gave us an on-site field assessment. He said that to control the cheat grass that was re-surfacing, we should begin grazing right away. The right away grazing would keep the seed from becoming viable. He stayed as we moved the cows into the fields.

    Nature – In June 2006 we seeded fields 4 and 5 to no-till Sudan grass and turnips into the winter rye re-growth. There was virtually no catch on the Sudan grass though the turnips came well. We attributed the no-growth to insufficient moisture to germinate the seed. The truth came out much later – that rye gives off a chemical which inhibits the growth of the Sudan grass and other species as well.
    Solution: The 2007 rotation had to be adjusted according to what would grow on the rye ground.

    Pests – The sunflowers were planted late, June 20th and though growth was heavy and lush, the large heads were like magnets to the birds; they took their share.
    Solution: God feeds His flocks and cares for the sparrows and humming birds. We do not fault Him for using His crops to feed His birds. He alone will show us which crop is the best for oil production. We will look for alternative oil crops and different timing of our plantings.

    PEOPLE
    Our pre-1950’s Farming Unit. In order to become a pre-1950’s farming unit we needed to re-create a home and community environment that, borrowed, shared, substituted, used wisely, home-made, rented or hired, didn’t buy, and traded.

    So when it was time to put our plans into practice– kind of like “where the rubber meets the road”, Bethany Prairie Farm first downsized by selling 160 acres to relieve some of the old debt. It was decided not to sell off any of the remaining 440 acres as this land with good soil and adequate water, pot holes and rolling fields was needed as a unit to remain sustainable. We had 2 smaller tractors and no tillage tools. We rented an older 4 wheel drive tractor and matching tillage equipment from Kelly Severson’s excess and mostly worn inventory. We purchased a small disk and harrow from another neighbor – all of this took a small amount of cash. Jerome Arneson, a semi-retired farmer from Cooperstown, ND, custom no-tilled our pastures and small grains with a 30 ft no-till grain drill, with man and tractor for $12 per acre.

    Established organic farmers were “the best” at freely sharing information, ideas, and know how. David Podoll, spent many hours and made numerous trips to the farm as our mentor. Rick Mittleider, Ann and Bill Ohngstad, Lynn Brekke, Emily Stiegelmeier, Blaine Schmaltz, Fred Kirschenmann, Steve Sund, Ray Berry, Andy Heinze, Sam Leppert, Ken Piggors, Myron Lick, Terry Jacobson, Allan Miller, Dwight Duke, Ernie Hoffert, and Gene Goven, spent hours giving us guidance.

    Kelly Severson, planted the row crops and rented his older and moderate sized machinery to the project

    Dick Grotberg, Kelly Severson, and Sam Leppert, three of the principal diversified farmers in this grant started an old fashioned togetherness project. Three hundred ninety (390) acres of CRP hay from Griggs Co, USDA Farm Service Agency and 3 land owners. The total rent amount and basic expenses less labor and delivery from the site to our farms was $4563 for 785 bales for a basic cost of $7.50 per bale. Another average of $3 take home cost gave us a total of $10.50, compared to $25 to $30 for purchase and delivery of custom made hay bales. This project gave us many experiences of cooperation, trust and just plain neighbors working together for another sustainable venture. Where there was a difference of bales per farmer, we agreed to settle for the basic input.

    Our Cooperators:
    Carol Peterson, Coordinator, USDA Resource, Conservation and Development program, in cooperation with the local Sheyenne James RC&D. Phone 701.252.2521. Carol helped with grant resources and technology contacts.

    Susan Samson-Liebig, Soil Quality Specialist, USDA-NRCS, Bismarck, ND, is the lead organizer of the soil science team. She will report and publish findings.

    Steve Zwinger, Agronomy Research Specialist, NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center, 663 Hwy. 281 North, Carrington, ND, Phone 701.652.2951. Steve provided research on annual pasture grasses, rotation, seeds, crops, organic production and soil testing.

    David Podoll, Master organic farmer, 97342 79th St SE, Fullerton, ND 58441. Phone 701-883-4429. David mentored the transition to organic farming project.

    Randy Grueneich, County Agent, NDSU Extension Service, Barnes County, Phone 701.845.8528. Randy is the contact person for Extension resources. Randy researched the downy brome problem and made recommendations based on his research.

    Jim Lees, Director, Small Business Development Corporation, South Central Regional Council, 210 10th St SE, Jamestown, ND, Phone 701.252.8060. Jim assisted in business planning and financial advice.

    Kevin Sedivec, Extension Rangeland Specialist, Room 100F Holt Hall, NDSU, Fargo ND 58405, Phone 701-231-7647, and Lee Voigt, Area Grazing Lands Specialist, NRCS Jamestown area Office, 208 2nd Ave SW, Jamestown, ND 58402, Phone 701-252-1460. Kevin and Lee advised on pasture and annual grazing plans and practices.

    Kristi Laframboise, Soil Conservationist, NRCS Valley City Field Office, 575 10th St SW, Ste 3, Valley City, ND 58072 Phone 701-845-5605. Kristi prepared the NRCS conservation plan and advised on the EQIP program practices.

    Ken Pigors, Master organic crop and livestock farmer, PO Box 772, Ferney, SD 57439, Phone 605-395-6658, Ken will advise the group on organic farming from a sustainable Biblical perspective.

    Britt Jacobson, Project Coordinator, Organic Farming 101, FARRMS, 301 5th Ave SE, Medina, ND 58467, Phone 701-486-3569. Britt worked to provide a scholarship for us to the Organic 101 Farming course.

    OUTREACH
    We hosted the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society Summer Symposium and included the Central ND Pastured Poultry Field Day in the event; 130 meals were served within between 140 and 150 people attending. (See attachments.) [Editor’s note: For copies of the attachments, please contact NCR-SARE at ncrsare@umn.edu or 1-800-529-1342.]

    We gave tours to the Valley City Times Record and the Fargo Forum. Both papers published feature articles. (See attachments.)

    We had booths at farm shows and tourism events.

    We provide educational outreach for 4-H Clubs and the Farmers Union Youth Camps which was open for about 200 young people to access.

    We hosted 5 learning-based vacation weekends to accommodate about 60 people.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.