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Conservation Practices Help Pass on Legacy in Bowman County

Roger Bartholmy has a historical compass guiding him on his small acreage in the northeastern corner of Bowman County near Scranton.

Luann Dart writes from Elgin, N.D.

His grandparents homesteaded there in 1908 and Roger and his family live in the home built by his ancestors in the 1920s. Inside the home are photos of Roger’s father farming with horses when he was about 10 years old.

tractor, field

Roger remembers listening to stories from his father and oldest aunt, who also did fieldwork.

 “She had a real passion for the land and the work that went into it,” Roger recalls of his aunt’s stories. Roger’s father graduated in the 1930s, then began farming himself.

“That’s where the passion for the land comes from. They really struggled to make it through the 1930s, so there’s an appreciation there for what they did,” he says.

Roger, his wife, Joanne, and their six children now farm 200 acres, raising spring wheat, along with cover crops and forage crops for their 35 head of Angus cattle.

“The livestock’s been the backbone of the operation,” Roger says.

Both Roger and Joanne also have full-time jobs off the farm.

In addition, the family has a menagerie of animals his children have acquired for 4-H and FFA projects, including sheep, pigs, dairy and meat goats, chickens, ducks and a donkey, which have kept them close to their farming roots.

“Roger does a wonderful job of passing the legacy of farming/ranching to his children,” says Bowman County District Conservationist Wendy Bartholomay. 

“Our biggest assets are our soil and our children, the young people in the community,” Roger says.

To help continue his family’s legacy, Roger is enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“CSP helps you build on your existing conservation efforts while strengthening your operation. Whether you are looking to improve grazing conditions, increase crop yields, or develop wildlife habitat, we can custom design a CSP plan to help you meet those goals. We can help you schedule timely planting of cover crops, develop a grazing plan that will improve your forage base, implement no-till to reduce erosion or manage forested areas in a way that benefits wildlife habitat. If you are already taking steps to improve the condition of the land, chances are CSP can help you find new ways to meet your goals,” the NRCS describes.

One aspect of Roger’s CSP enrollment has been the use of cover crops. Each year, he seeds one piece of cropland to a full-season crop, which is then utilized for grazing or haying as a forage.

 “I think there’s a lot of potential with this cover crop stuff. Everybody’s got different situations and I think even people who don’t have livestock, it would fit in with something they could do,” he says.

He’s relied on NRCS expertise to help him develop the species mix that works best for his farm.

“That’s something that takes some experimentation. It’s not an easy thing to figure that out. It’s a learning thing,” he explains.

On his cropland, Roger has also implemented no-till, renting a planter, during the past two years.

He’s made these changes to his operation after attending a crop tour that included field peas.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘We can grow something else.’ That was kind of a turning point for realizing that. I’m the last guy to jump on the wagon. When something new comes out, I want someone else to test it out first,” he says.

One change Roger didn’t have to make was managing his pastureland to sustain the grass over the years.

“It really bothers me to see something overgrazed, but sometimes you don’t have a choice,” he says. “We have to look to the future. That land is for the future, you have to be responsible and take care of it.”

While Roger does not use rotational grazing on his small acreage, he does rotate which pasture the cows enter each spring, which has helped his pastures thrive.

“It’s amazing the wildflowers you see in these native pastures,” he says.

Through the CSP, Roger has also left acreage for wildlife, and naturally leaves areas for important plant pollinator species.

“We don’t farm to the edges and the fences are in from the section line, so we do have some land we leave open for that,” he says.

“He has a passion for the land and the wildlife,” Bartholomay shares.

“I appreciate the wildlife and what’s there,” Roger agrees. “It doesn’t take much to help them either.”

While Roger’s operation is small, he’s gained an appreciation for farmers who must implement changes to sustain and improve.

“I have a real appreciation for the guys out there farming and doing a good job because it’s a high-risk deal,” he says. “Things are changing for the better. People are more aware of things now. Change isn’t as easy as it should be.”