Having a diverse operation during a drought season

KELOLAND.com Original

STANLEY COUNTY, S.D. (KELO)– Diversity is something that is important to a lot of agricultural producers across South Dakota.

Prairie Paradise Farms, owned by Levi Neuharth and the 2021 winner of the Leopold Conservation Award, consists of 2,300 acres of farm land and about 3,000 acres of grass. Not only do they have crops and grasslands, but they also take in around 200 head of custom grazing cattle pairs and about 150 dairy goats, along with some chickens, a llama and a couple peacocks.

The crops they produce vary from year to year, Neuharth said. This year, they are growing flax, oats, spring wheat, winter wheat, milo, full-season cover crop and teff grass.

One of the benefits to having diverse operation is that you are not set on just one or two crops, he said.

“If one might fail, then the other two can pick up where the other one didn’t get the moisture,” Neuharth said. “Having different animals, like the goats and the chickens, gives us some other opportunities for markets as well.”

So far, the pastures this year have been very short, he said.

“Without getting snow this winter, and having a very cool start to spring, it was like a 39 degree average temperature in April, and so the cool season grasses didn’t really get going and we haven’t had much more than about 3 inches of rain here since April 7, so the warm season grasses haven’t really taken off much either,” Neuharth said.

Some of the winter wheat will make it, but some of it looks good, but has nothing in its heads, Neuharth said. He doesn’t think the spring wheat is going to make it. The oats will depend on if there is any rainfall. The flax crop didn’t like the high heats.

The milo is still hanging on, because it was planted into stripper stubble, so it has held onto the moisture fairly well so far, he said.

The farm has been a no-till operation since 1991, Neuharth said, and they have been using cover crops for the last 12 years.

“If we have plenty of residue out there, it seems like its helping the crops hold on longer and to try to wait for some rain, but some of the crops have run out and couldn’t hold out any longer,” Neuharth said.

The winter wheat held on for a while, he said, but then they started to burn up from the bottom and kept coming through to the heads, then the heads wouldn’t fill.

If the wheat crop isn’t harvestable, he is going to leave it standing so that he has the residue on his field.

“If I take it away now and we stay dry, that’s just going to set us up for more failures of the crops, by not having any residue out there and having the ground be bare and hoy and dry up.” Neuharth said. “If you can keep it covered and cooler, the microbes underneath the soil will help keep the soil alive.”

He feels that leaving that residue on the ground is more valuable that putting it up for hay.

They has some stand issues with the milo in the thick stripper stubble, but everything that came up seems to be holding out and looking alright right now.

“I’m hoping we can catch a rain sooner, rather than later,” he said.

On their pastureland, they have been doing rotational grazing for the last 11 years.

“We just didn’t have the moisture in the winter or early spring and the warm temperatures to get the grazing, there is still grazing out here because we don’t grub it all off, but there’s not a lot of new growth in the pastures this year with the lack of rain,” Neuharth said.

The cattle will be grazing a lot shorter than they normally would, about half of the length of a normal season, he said.

“I’m guessing if we can make it two to two and a half months this year, over the pastures which we at 80 percent of the stocking rate I normally would, we’re going to be pretty lucky to make it to that,” Neuharth said. “I normally would make it five to six months on the pastures.”

Even if they do have a rain, he doesn’t know if it will help this year, but it will try to help build the moisture back up for next year.

The dams for watering livestock and drying up very quickly, he said, but they haven’t had cows get stuck in there. For the most part, each of their pastures does have a water tank.

So far, they have plenty of feed for their goat operation, even if they don’t get much more pastureland, Neuharth said. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have sold quite a few milking goats because people are wanting to be a little more self sufficient and having their own source of milk.

“So our milk herd I don’t think is going to be impacted too much, because we have carry over from last year where we had a lot of good hay,” he said.

They are building some fence to add goat pastures as well, Neuharth said, and he believes they will be able to continue maintaining their goat herd to the size they are at.

If you are experiencing drought conditions in your area, please send your drought photos to aschumacher@keloland.com

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