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Soldier-Turned-Farmer Uses Rotational Grazing to Make His Minnesota Ranch Successful & Sustainable

Pete Berscheit uses rotational grazing on his Minnesota farm to improve production while helping the environment. NRCS photo.

Pete Berscheit uses rotational grazing on his Minnesota farm to improve production while helping the environment. NRCS photo.

Pete Berscheit has wanted to farm since he was five. But with three brothers interested in farming, he didn’t think the fourth-generation family farm in Todd County, Minn. would be large enough to support everyone.

So instead of farming, Berscheit joined the Army at 17, where he served for 20 years. Toward the end of his Army career, repeated deployments were starting to take a toll on his young family, and in 2008, he and his wife, Rosemary, decided to return to their roots.

Berscheit and his family bought a place to support a small herd of 40 Black Angus cow and calf pairs, fulfilling his nearly lifelong dream of becoming a farmer. The farm is about three miles from where he grew up in central Minnesota. The farm was a good location and was a good fit for raising a family and starting his ranch.

A family friend and neighbor, Jim Anderson, spiked Berscheit’s interest in rotational grazing. Anderson had used rotational grazing for years and touted the benefits of the conservation practice. The practice improves the herd’s health and leads to other benefits for the ranch and the environment. Berscheit was convinced rotational grazing was right for his land.

He turned to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for help installing a rotational grazing system. Russell Kleinschmidt, a district conservationist with NRCS, helped him plan and implement one.

Rotational grazing improves forage health and production by resting pastures and leaving adequate forage stubble height to allow for grass to recover and grow faster. The practice also encourages more diversity in the grasses and legumes that grow. With rotational grazing, the grass keeps the soil covered, preventing erosion and allowing the plant matter to improve soil health.

To implement a rotational grazing system, Berscheit divided his one large pasture into separate paddocks, or pastures, with fencing. He also added a watering system to each new paddock and seeded a variety of grasses and legumes on his land.

“I truly appreciated the technical assistance of NRCS’ employees,” Berscheit said. “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 help me improve my farm operation.”

In addition to the technical assistance from NRCS, Berscheit also applied and received financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help pay for the fencing, watering facilities and seeding. The purpose of this Farm Bill program is to solve natural resource concerns while improving agricultural production.

Because of the area’s steep slopes and sandy soil, his conservation work also helps curb erosion, keeping healthy soil where it’s needed and out of the stream that cuts across his land.

“Working with NRCS was invaluable,” Berscheit said, recommending rotational grazing and other agency conservation practices to other farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

3 Responses to “Soldier-Turned-Farmer Uses Rotational Grazing to Make His Minnesota Ranch Successful & Sustainable”

  1. Bobbie says:

    This is very interesting. Here at my Bureau of Indian Affairs agency, we have a reservation with expired grazing permits, no fencing between tribal and allotted lands, etc. I too a Grazing Management class at my local college recently and I’ll give a copy of this article to my Superintendent. Rotational grazing lots were taught in my class, I think it might work in Indian Country too. Thanks.

  2. Evan Olivas says:

    For Bobbie- Be sure to contact the NRCS office that services your area. The NRCS also works with Tribes on tribal lands!

  3. Beth says:

    I’ve heard and read many stories across the country like this one and am very happy for this farmer, especially knowing he served his country in a military capacity, making the ultimate sacrifice if called upon. Now, let me tell you our story: My husband and I, both military veteran’s with a combined service of 32 years and honorably discharged, have not been as fortunate in our quest for government assistance primarily through the EQUIP grant. We use rotational grazing in our management system because of the benefits to the land and for the health of our animals. However, we do not have permanent paddocks and rely on portable electric fencing, all which is time and labor intensive. We haul fresh water to our livestock at least once a day because we cannot afford an automatic watering system. For the 4 and 1/2 years since we’ve been operating, representatives from NCRS come out, take their spin around our property, take measurements, and eventually draw up elaborate plans for us which is very time intensive, especially on their part. Each year we loose a half day of work to travel to the NCRS office to meet and review the plan and then sign our application. And for the same many years, we receive our denial letter, all the while reading in the local paper or hearing how our neighbors who did not serve and whose income does not primary derive from farming are to receive their 5th, 6th or more grant. I think it’s important for anyone new to farming to know that you cannot count on assistance even if your goals and practices align perfectly with the purpose of these grants. I think it’s important for people to know our story because they may have the same outcome. We are both in our 50′s. All of our capital went to the purchase of our land, outbuildings and livestock. We cannot afford the time nor energy to play this charade when there seems to be no intent to provide assistance to us. I am hoping for all farmers, especially, beginning farmers and veteran farmers like us, that our situation is only a local matter. Regardless, I believe people need to hear these stories too, not just the stories that seem to result in happy endings.

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