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Todd County Beginning Farmer Address Natural Resource Concerns

 

Minnesota's Conservation Showcase

 

 

 

 

Pete Berscheit has wanted to farm since he was 5 years old. However, with three brothers interested in farming, he knew the 4th generation family farm would not be large enough to support everyone.

At age 17, Berscheit put off farming for a stint in the army. By the 1980’s the Farm Crisis hit and Berscheit elected to put off farming longer and ended up serving 20 years.

“Pete Berscheit stands next to one of his cows bale grazing on pasture during 20 below zero weather.Toward the end of his Army career, repeated deployments were starting to take a toll on his young family. He and his wife decided to leave the army and move back home to Minnesota and farm. They purchased a farm in 2008 and focused on raising registered Black Angus cattle, fulfilling his nearly lifelong goal of becoming a farmer.

A family friend and neighbor, Jim Anderson, spiked Berscheit’s interest in rotational grazing. Anderson had been practicing rotational grazing for years and touted the benefits of reduced parasite loads and calf mortality and focused on the benefits from the standpoint of herd health. Talking to Anderson made Berscheit decide to consider rotational grazing on his farm.

In 2009, Russell Kleinschmidt, Todd County District Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), helped Berscheit make the decision to install a rotational grazing system. Kleinschmidt was able to explain additional benefits of rotational grazing including increased forage health and production. Rotationally grazing improves forage health and production by resting pastures and leaving adequate forage stubble height to allow quicker grass regrowth. In addition, allowing rest and regrowth of forage can improve the grass and legume diversity, improve soil health, increase nutrient cycling, and much more. Shortly after the initial discussion Berscheit inquired about getting a rotational grazing system plan. The plan included subdividing the pasture into separate paddocks with fence, a watering system to deliver water to each paddock through a well and pipeline, and seeding grasses and legumes on crop and pasture land.

The final selling point occurred at the Todd County Fair when Kleinschmidt and Berscheit ran into each other. With the added financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) as a beginning grazier, Berscheit would be able to install the livestock watering system, fence, and pasture seeding. He would begin managing his rotational grazing system much quicker and achieve environmental benefits sooner than if he had to complete it on his own.

The purpose of EQIP is to solve natural resource concerns at the same time being compatible with agriculture production. Berscheit’s farm had multiple resource concerns that could be addressed in addition to the animal and forage health and production benefits. His farm has an intermittent stream and multiple seasonal, wooded, and open water wetlands that would be protected by rotationally grazing. Berscheit’s farm also is situated on coarse textured sandy soils that are on steep slopes making them sensitive to erosion, leaching and runoff. Implementing his grazing plan through EQIP would allow him to manage the land for the benefit of both his farm and the environment.

In 2012 Berscheit was approved for an EQIP contract to install the rotational grazing system to address these resource concerns. “I truly appreciated the technical assistance of NRCS’ employees” said Berscheit. “It’s easy to say I think I am going to put a fence here and there to subdivide the pasture, but NRCS was able to strategically plan out my system to ensure proper fence placement to size the paddocks properly, avoid creating trailing and erosion, managing the stream and wetlands to avoid degrading water quality, and to help me improve my farm operation. Working with NRCS was invaluable.”

Recently Berscheit has taken his management to the next step by bale grazing during the winter months. For he and his family this works out wonderful. Bale grazing spreads the manure throughout the pasture so that the manure resource is not stockpiled in one particular spot. Berscheit has seen some real improvements in his pasture where he has bale grazed some of the poorer soils and less productive areas. In the process he also reduced fossil fuel energy use and saved time and money by not having to spread the manure.

“Conservation can’t be done behind the desk, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build a working relationship with a producer. You need to spend time to walk the land, and put together a conservation plan that fits the producer’s farm and goals. And ultimately the plan needs to be sustainable for the land and the producer.” said Kleinschmidt.

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