Grass-fed Bison Returns to South Dakota Prairie

A bison stands alone in a grassy meadow in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Getty Images.

By Jill Henderson

Another spring day begins on the Great Plains of northwestern South Dakota. The short-grass prairie at 777 Bison Ranch bristles with colorful wildflowers and native grasses. From the view of a drone flying high above, the bulky mass of 1,600 American bison stream like a watercourse across the ridges and shallow valleys as they move towards fresh grazing grounds. Seeing so many bison together in one place is not only breathtaking but an incredibly rare opportunity for most people. For a brief moment, it is easy to forget the long and uncertain history of these icons of the American West and to lose oneself in the beauty of the renaturalized prairie on which they and their plant and animal allies once again thrive. For Mimi Hillenbrand, owner and manager of the 777 Bison Ranch, this amazing landscape has been forged in a labor of love for bison and the Northern Plains from which they originated.

American Bison

Before the arrival of Europeans, more than 60 million American bison roamed the prairies and plains of North America. From the Alaskan wilderness to the rich grasslands of northern Mexico, and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Great Basin of Nevada, the annual migration of bison across the continent in massive herds not only shaped the richly diverse grasslands upon which they thrived but were also an integral part of the culture and survival of indigenous peoples of North America for hundreds of thousands of years.

As Europeans made their way into the interior of the continent they too found the bison useful. Everywhere they went, bison were killed by the thousands to fill a growing demand for leather and fur back east and across the Atlantic.

Between 1871 and 1889, in an inexcusable act of terrorism, bison were ruthlessly slaughtered and at times left to rot for the sole purpose of demoralizing and denying Native Americans one of their most sacred spiritual icons and their primary source of food, clothing, tools and shelter. Without the bison, the western tribes were defeated and relocated to make way for western expansion.

In 1883, a young Teddy Roosevelt traveled to the Dakotas to hunt the last of the largest mammals on the continent. He stalked a lone buffalo bull for the better part of a week and then danced around the carcass in celebration. Later he would lament the condition and demise of the once-mighty bison and rally fellow conservationists to the cause of their preservation. By the early 1900s, roughly 1,000 American bison were left alive on the continent, most of which had been corralled into confinement. A mere twenty-three lived free in the protective central valley of Yellowstone National Park. It is from these surviving remnants that all genetically pure American bison alive today originate.

A Bison Ranch is Born

In 1972, Ray Hillenbrand and his brothers purchased the 777 Ranch located in a remote area southeast of Rapid City. The family lived in Batesville, Indiana, where Ray managed his family’s businesses. The ranch was stocked with beef cattle and the land was worse for wear. After nine years of spending summers at the ranch, the Hillenbrand family permanently relocated there in 1980.

From the very beginning, conservation was at the heart of what the Hillenbrand family wanted for their growing ranch and in 1983, Ray introduced the first 100 head of bison. Mimi, then in high school, recalls the moment they decided they were done with beef cattle.

“It was a really bad winter and early spring and the cattle were calving right in the middle of a blizzard. It was a lot of work getting them into the barn and keeping them warm and all that mess. And as soon as the blizzard was over and the sun came out, all the bison calved and we reevaluated everything,” she said. “We made the switch entirely to bison in 1984-85 because part of our farm goal was to bring back the prairie. And since the bison evolved here and utilized the land in the right way and had great instincts, why not use them to help us?”

“About the same time we decided to go all-in on the bison in the late ’80s,” she continued, “Allan Savory was going around and talking to different ranching communities in the area. I can still remember sitting in a freezing barn listening to Allan speak and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, that makes so much sense!’ That was 30 years ago and we’ve been using holistic grazing ever since.”

Better All the Time

From the very beginning, Mimi loved being on the ranch and working with the bison and after high school, she earned a bachelor’s in wildlife biology with an emphasis on range management from the University of Montana. She followed that up with a master’s degree in agricultural sciences from Colorado State University. She returned to the ranch and worked alongside her father for several years before he handed the reins over to Mimi in 2004. “I’m living my dream from childhood, doing conservation work and making a living out of it,” she said.

The 777 Bison Ranch is comprised of 26,000 acres broken into 26 pastures. Because the bison are not given any supplemental feed of any kind, the ranch’s annual grazing plan must take into account not just the growing season, but the dormant season as well. “We plan for plant recovery and our recovery time ranges from 60 days, which is our minimum, to 120 days, depending on the weather,” said Mimi. “We’re moving the bison every two days to three weeks depending on pasture size and how the grass is growing.”

Because South Dakota is a semi-arid prairie that receives only 14 inches of precipitation annually, most of which comes in the winter and spring, keeping the size of their bison herd in proportion is crucial to what Mimi calls their “caring capacity.” In 2020, the ranch was stocked with 1,800 head of bison, but because of the recent drought, she and her management team decided to take that number down to 1,650. “The way most people stock out here is 23-25 acres per animal unit, but the way we’ve been managing our land, we’re down to 18 acres per animal unit, so we’ve increased our production substantially over the years,” she said.

Healthy Soil, Healthy Planet

A large part of any conservation-minded land management includes introducing or encouraging a wide array of native and naturalized plants for livestock as well as wild animals, birds and insects. For Mimi, having a good array of native plants and useful forage is a top priority. “There’s nothing especially wrong with introduced species. They were introduced because they are good protein for livestock. But as much as I don’t want them, they serve a purpose and they are still converting sunlight and that’s good. But just by the way we’ve been managing we have increased our diversity by 3-4 times.”

Non-native plants on the ranch include Kentucky Bluegrass, Smooth Brome, Cheatgrass, and Crested Wheat.

“One of our big successes is on some of the pastures that had been planted with Crested Wheat,” she said. “Just the way we’ve been grazing them has knocked that back and allowed Green Needle Grass, Western Wheat, and sods like Buffalo Grass and Blue Gramma to emerge. Even Big Bluestem makes its appearance when moisture is just right. But it’s like ‘Hey, now we’re really doing it!’”

Mimi explains that their desire for diversity, soil building and sequestering carbon is what got her to bring in Applied Ecological Services to do a year-long study to see if what they were doing with holistic management was actually achieving those goals.

“In some places, we’ve built inches of topsoil over the 30 years we’ve been doing HM,” she said. “And compared to some of the traditional grazers, our diversity is three times better and our water infiltration is off the map. Some of the springs that used to be seasonal now run year-round. It’s really super-cool.”

Mimi says that HM works, but it takes time.

“You’re not going to see these kinds of results in the first five years,” she said. “Our success is something that’s been going on since we made the switch to bison. When we were running cows in the ’70s and ’80s, we were doing traditional grazing and our soils were tied up in blue gramma and buffalo grass. Of course there is nothing wrong with those as good forage, but they can choke out other native species. We’re just working with it and now we have a really great mix of species. Back in the ’80s, we needed more cool-season plants and now we need more warm-season plants. It’s kinda cool to watch how everything just works itself out.”

Diversity is Key

Diversity is not only good for the environment and wildlife like dung beetles, birds, prairie dogs, and even coyotes — it’s good for bison, too. Because all pure American bison today originated from those remnant herds of the 1900s, Mimi is determined to have the most genetically diverse pure-bred American bison herd anywhere in the world and keeps track of her progress with genetic testing. “There were only 1,000 head of bison at the turn of the century and now we’re almost to half a million, which is a wonderful success story for this animal,” she explains.

“There are all these satellite herds like Wind Cave, Badlands, the Buffalo Range of Montana, Elk Island, Yellowstone, and Teddy Roosevelt (all of which are state and national parks) that have what I call ‘heritage genetics’ and that’s what I want in my herd,” she said. “I started with bison from Elk Island and Cap Rock Canyons State Park in Texas, which was the original Goodnight herd from 1878. I don’t like a closed herd and bison don’t usually inbreed, so I’ve been acquiring animals from all these really cool places.”

Handle With Care

Among the various aspects of running a grassfed holistic management operation, attaining certifications to prove to buyers and consumers that you are doing a good job can be the icing on an already sweet cake.

“I think consumers want to know where their food comes from and how the animals are treated, Mimi said. “And I can tell you where each one of our animals has been from conception to the moment it left the ranch. I can tell you what that bison was eating and where it was eating it and I can give you his whole life history and what pasture he was in on a certain day and I think that’s pretty cool.”

In addition to partnering with organizations dedicated to education on the nuances of raising of bison and the benefits and implementation of holistic and regenerative practices, the 777 Bison Ranch is a Savory Partner and is Land to Market Certified through the Savory Ecological Outcome Verification (E.O.V.) program, which helps connect regenerative producers with buyers. The ranch is also an American Grassfed Association (AGA) Certified Producer, which guarantees that their bison are always raised on pasture with no confinement and never treated with hormones or antibiotics. The Triple 7 was also awarded the Audubon Certified label, which is awarded for meat that is sustainably raised in a way that benefits wildlife habitat, particularly for native bird species.

In addition to these prestigious certifications, 777 was the very first bison ranch in the nation to receive the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certification. They did this, in part, by having Dr. Temple Grandin come to the ranch and help design safe, animal-friendly handling facilities specifically for their herd. Mimi also took classes from the late Bud Williams, who was famous for teaching ranchers how to train their cattle to stay together and move as a natural herd, which helps reduce stress during rotational grazing moves. “I took several classes from Bud and even went to Canada to learn from him. We still practice his techniques every day and I think our round-ups are truly amazing because of it.”

Another of Mimi’s passions is teaching, coaching and encouraging others to learn more about raising bison, implementing holistic management practices, and increasing biodiversity on their farms and ranches. In 2019, the 777 was presented with the Area IV Excellence in Range Management Award from the South Dakota Section of the Society for Range Management. In addition to the Triple 7 being featured in the films Dances With Wolves and Wyatt Earp, it also made it into the 2019 South Dakota Grassland Coalition Planner and video series, Voices for Soil Health, which was produced by the USDA NRCS South Dakota to promote healthy soils, grasslands and ecosystems.

Mimi is also board member of several prestigious organizations working for the promotion and preservation of the American Bison, including the National Buffalo Foundation and the National Buffalo Association, where she works on the science and research committee and the conservation committee. She is also a board member of South Dakota State University’s Center of Excellence for Bison Studies.

Women in Eco-Ag

When asked what it has been like to be a woman in charge a 26,000-acre bison ranch in what is inarguably a field dominated by men, Mimi laughed and said, “I get asked this all the time and I know a lot of people want me to say it was so hard being a woman and this and that, but I never let that bother me because I’m doing what I want to do. I’m a very fortunate person and I’m living my dream and my passion and nobody is going to stop you if you believe in what you do.”

“My biggest challenge was finding the right team, the right people who embraced my passion and vision for the ranch. I’ve worked with my ranch manager, Moritz Espy, for a long time now, but when he first came on he thought I was some tree-hugging hippy chick with all these crazy ideas. It took him a few years before he got what I was doing, but Justin Selke and Cody Smith, the other two gentlemen on my team, got it right away. But we’re all on the same page now and we joke about it all the time,” she said.

“I would say to any woman who has a dream to ranch or farm to remember that everybody has challenges, male and female. But if you feel it in your heart and soul, if it’s your dream and your passion, you can accomplish anything and nobody can stop you.”

On Swarms and Stings

Welcome to Book of the Week – offering you a glimpse between the pages!  Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! This week’s Book of the Week feature Dancing With Bees, by Brigit Strawbridge Howard. It was reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Between late spring and midsummer, my inbox, mobile phone, and social media timelines fill up with messages from people asking for advice about bee swarms. As my husband Rob is a beekeeper, my first thought when I see the word ‘swarm’ is the process by which a resident queen honeybee leaves her hive, accompanied by thousands of her loyal worker bees, to search for somewhere suitable to set up a new colony.

So, if it is clear that the enquirer has seen a honeybee swarm, I typically suggest contacting the local beekeeping association, which will more often than not send a swarm collector out to them. However, if the enquirer is local to us, Rob himself will often jump in the car with his bee suit and an old wicker laundry basket to see if he can catch the bees and bring them home. Beekeepers love nothing more than to retrieve and rehome a swarm of honeybees, and if we don’t have a spare hive ourselves, there are always other beekeepers in the area who are delighted to take the swarm off Rob’s hands.

Taking a container of some sort to catch the bees is a necessity, as is making sure your container has a lid that closes properly for the journey home.

Wearing a bee suit, though strongly advisable for anyone inexperienced, is not. Some beekeepers tend to their bees without protecting themselves in any way whatsoever; the wonderful Heidi Herrmann, president of the Natural Beekeeping Trust, has a video online in which she catches a mid- summer swarm, gathering them up by hand into a skep (a wicker beehive), before gently coaxing them into one of her empty hives – all whilst wearing only her light summer clothes. This takes a leap of faith and a lot of trust on the part of the swarm catcher, and is certainly not for everyone. In Heidi’s case, the swarm was from one of the hives she keeps in her garden, so she already knew the bees and they knew her.

Heidi had not always been this comfortable around bees. Indeed, a fear of being stung was one of the first obstacles she needed to overcome when she took up beekeeping around twenty years ago. She approached this slowly, starting to leave off items of protective clothing such as gloves and veil, until eventually she was able to open a hive without any protection at all. Heidi describes the moment as ‘a kind of unity’.

Rob prefers to wear a suit, especially when dealing with bees of unknown origin.

Honeybees are actually less likely to sting whilst swarming than at any other time. This is because, prior to swarming, the bees gorge themselves on honey, so are more docile than ever. They are also so full up, and their honey stomachs so distended, that they are less easily able to curl their abdomen under to sting.

Some swarms are easier to collect than others, involving nothing more than gently brushing or shaking the swarm into a container. Ladders are occasionally needed, as are screwdrivers or other tools, if the swarm has decided to try to make a new, permanent home inside (for instance) a dovecote or underneath some floorboards.

The most difficult collection Rob has ever undertaken was not a swarm, but a wild colony that had some years ago established itself between the outer and inner walls of Sutton Waldron village hall. The village hall committee had asked other beekeepers in the area if they could help, but there were no takers, possibly because a cursory inspection revealed that the outer, wooden wall of the hall would need to be completely dismantled to reach the colony. This would be extremely time-consuming, and catching the queen – essential to the survival of a colony – would by no means be guaranteed. Workers were coming in and out of the hall in ever increasing numbers, and as the space was used regularly for community activities (including a mother-and-toddler group), the committee had reluctantly determined that the bees would have to be destroyed if they couldn’t be removed. Rob stepped up as their last hope.

Rob loves nothing more than a challenge, so over the next four weeks, he slowly, painstakingly, and extremely gently dismantled the outer wall of the hall, exposing an enormous honeycomb that spanned a number of the joists and extended up into the roof. The colony had clearly been living here for quite some time, and had grown so huge that it could no longer be contained inside the wall – which was why people were getting more and more bothered by the bees.

Rob quickly worked out that the colony was so large, it would need to be removed in two parts. He had attached a tarpaulin to the side of the building whilst he worked, because although the weather was warm, it was also very wet, and the exposed comb needed to be protected between his visits. Then late one Saturday evening, after warnings of upcoming storms and heavy rains, Rob had to commit to removing those bees that he could access, and just hope the queen would be amongst their number. Aided by one of the villagers, he took a knife and cut off the exposed part of the comb, complete with brood cells and many thousands of worker bees, allowing it all to drop into a cardboard box.

Only when he started to cut the comb away could he see that the bees had built their comb around the nails that held the outer casing of the hall to the inner casing. As the bits that were not attached to the nails fell into the box, he realised the queen was probably amongst the tightly clustered group of bees that had made their way up into the roof whilst he had been working.

Rob doesn’t give up easily. Against the clock, he made a long, thin makeshift box, tucked it around the comb remaining just beneath the roof space, and left it there overnight. He hoped the queen and those workers he hadn’t already caught might crawl back down to this comb, which was still attached to the side of the hall but also now contained in his makeshift box.

We came back again late the following evening so that Rob could prise the comb inside the makeshift box away from the wall. This final part of the rescue – for a rescue is what it had become – was executed with great precision in pelting rain. Sometime shortly before midnight, we drove home, exhausted but jubilant, with tens of thousands of bees and giant chunks of honeycomb divided between two boxes in the back of the car.

When we got home, Rob tipped the contents of both boxes into an empty top bar hive and put the lid on. We would not know until we returned to the hall the next day to retrieve stragglers whether the rescue had been successful or not. Happily, when he did go back up the ladder and into the roof space, Rob could see no sign of anything that even slightly resembled a cluster; there were less than a handful of confused, disorientated bees up there. What relief. It looked as though he had managed to collect the queen and pretty much the entire colony of workers, together with most of their comb, in the nick of time. The worst of the stormy weather that had been forecast arrived that afternoon.

Three years on, we call this colony, which survived against the odds, our Village Hall Bees. They have adapted well to their new home, thrown off at least two swarms of their own, and hold a special place in our hearts.

About the Author:

Brigit Strawbridge Howard is a bee advocate, wildlife gardener and naturalist. She writes, speaks, and campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of native wild bees and other pollinating insects. She lives in North Dorset, UK with her husband, Rob. 

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Hemp’s Versatility Has Untapped Potential

Photo courtesy of Rodale Institute

By Dr. Fatemeh Etemadi

Our water, air and land are being polluted more than ever by textile manufacturing byproducts and plastic microparticles. With industrial hemp’s resurgence as a cash crop and ability to integrate into regenerative farming practices, hemp might be the answer to our problems.

Hemp grows rapidly and has an extensive root system, making it a potential tool for natural weed suppression and enhancing soil health. Weed management is considered a perennial obstacle for existing organic farmers and a barrier for those considering transitioning to organic. Successful weed management in organic systems often includes intensive tillage and repeated cultivation that can degrade soil health. As a cover crop, hemp enhances soil health by shading out weeds, reducing the need for synthetic herbicides.

Hemp, as a multipurpose crop, is environmentally friendly, can increase farmer income, is nutritious when consumed, and has many uses in agriculture and industry. As industrial hemp can be a good option in the transition to sustainable agriculture, Rodale Institute has conducted several experiments to gather crucial information to help farmers succeed and to examine hemp as a tool for regenerative farming.

In 2017, Rodale Institute initiated a four-year trial studying the effects of industrial hemp as part of a regenerative organic crop rotation to enhance soil health, increase crop production, weed suppression, and improve organic fertility management when growing hemp in Pennsylvania. Subsequent trials added to this study include analysis of nutrient management, planting dates and CBD varieties. The overall goal of Rodale Institute’s research into industrial hemp is to estimate the potential for this crop to improve farmer success in a regenerative organic system.

The rotational research trial results indicated that hemp is a viable weed suppression cover crop that has higher economic value than something like sorghum Sudangrass, typically used as a forage for livestock. This may provide potential to reduce tillage in organic systems.

Soybean and wheat yields following hemp remained relatively high compared to other production systems on the Rodale Institute farm in Pennsylvania — often reaching or exceeding national averages.

In the nutrient management trial, we learned that hemp grain yield is increased with increased nitrogen fertilizer application. Sufficient nitrogen availability allows hemp to maximize growth and outcompete weeds at smaller between-row spacings (7.5 inch), while weed species outcompeted hemp in larger row spacings (15 inch) when nitrogen is limited.

In CBD varieties, CBD concentrations were highest with the application of straw and compost compared to black plastic mulch and bloodmeal (12-0-0) applied as fertilizer; however, plant height, width, branch number and biomass were highest in plants with bloodmeal and plastic mulch, resulting in higher total CBD yield. There appears to be tradeoffs between mulching types, increased nitrogen fertility, plant production and CBD concentration. Future research should continue to optimize spacing, fertility and mulching needs.

Since the launch of the Rodale Institute industrial hemp research program in 2017, public interest in our work has grown rapidly. In addition to attending conferences and meetings, Rodale Institute staff consult with farmers regularly across the Northeast and entire United States on growing industrial hemp in a regenerative way to determine how hemp can benefit farmers while mitigating environmental impacts.

In 2021, the hemp research program will begin to transition more research trials to the Pocono Organics site in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, and will include continued analysis of nutrient management, cover crops, reduced tillage and a selection of auto-flowering varieties for regenerative organic hemp production. Also, the Institute plans to test more varieties, specifically domestic varieties as they become available, and adjust planting date, harvest date, seeding rate, and spacing to maximize the marketability of the varieties for their intended use. This research helps us learn how to increase farmer income, learn more about seed and dual-purpose varieties and determine if they can fit into a grain rotation as a weed smother crop.

To learn more about Rodale Institute work on industrial hemp, visit

Dr. Fatemeh Etemadi is Rodale Institute’s Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Industrial Hemp. Fatemeh is a Ph.D. graduate from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with the concentration in agronomy and crop physiology. Fatemeh works on Rodale Institute’s Industrial hemp research. Contact Fatemeh at

Potassium Helps Sweet Clover

Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature of an Acres U.S.A. published title offering you a glimpse between the pages! Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your inbox! This week’s Book of the Week feature is Albrecht on Soil Balancing, Vol. VII, by William A. Albrecht.

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From Chapter 17: Potassium Helps Put More Nitrogen into Sweet Clover

Some tests with sweet clover as the green manure crop in a rotation grown on Putnam silt loam on the South Farm of the Missouri Experiment Station in 1947 demonstrated that potassium as well as calcium is needed if this crop is to be a producer of considerable tonnage of vegetative bulk. Potassium also demonstrated its service in raising the concentration of nitrogen in the crop, and, presumably thereby, the fixation of nitrogen from the atmosphere.

Plan of the Study

The sweet clover studied is the legume crop in a four-year rotation of corn, oats, wheat, and sweet clover. The soil treatments on the respective three plots include the basic addition of calcium in limestone at the rate of 2 tons per acre every 8 years. In addition, there is a superphosphate application of 475 pounds per rotation and a potash application of 475 pounds as a 0–20–20 fertilizer per rotation on this plot.

The crop harvests for forage yields were taken, and the plants divided into tops and roots with the customary “stubble” included with the tops by dividing at the soil surface line of the plants. The data for the crop weights according to soil treatments are given in Table 1. The weights of the tops and roots may well be compared by the ratios given in the table when calculated with the roots taken as unity. In order to measure the yields and concentration of nitrogen, the plant parts were finely ground in a special hammer mill and the nitrogen determination made on the oven-dry weights of the samples. The data are presented for the nitrogen in the plant tops and in the roots as total harvests in pounds per acre and also in terms of the concentration of the nitrogen in the vegetation as pounds per ton. Then there are given the ratios of nitrogen per acre in the tops to that in the roots, and the ratio of the nitrogen per ton of tops to that per ton of the roots.


Root-Rot Less with Potassium Applied

Observations made on the sweet clover on approaching maturity showed a crop of heavier stems, more dense in growth, and taller as the additional soil treatments were applied (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. — Relative yields of forage and differences in roots and stems of sweet clover varying in root-rot according to soil treatments.
Fig. 1. — Relative yields of forage and differences in roots and stems of sweet clover varying in root-rot according to soil treatments.

It was especially interesting to note that the nearly mature plants could easily be pulled up from the soil where lime only was used. They were pulled up with more difficulty on the plot with lime and phosphate, but it was impossible to pull them up by their roots where lime, phosphate, and potash had been used as soil treatments.

Examination of the roots led a plant pathologist to declare that the root-rot disease was prevalent on the plants grown where the potash had been omitted, but he considered very little of this disease evident on the plants grown with the added potash. Here is the suggestion that when the plant physiology was considered and provision was made for better nutrition through the addition of potassium to balance the generous application of calcium, there was little damage from the disease.

Roots More Efficient in Making Plant Tops Because of Application of Potash

From the data in Table 1, it is evident that there are wide differences in the efficiency with which a given amount of roots made their corresponding tops under the different soil treatments. In the production of total bulk, where only lime was used, each unit of roots produced 21/times its weight as tops, but when both lime and phosphate were added to the soil, each unit of roots made tops about 10% more efficiently. This is shown by the ratio of 2.59 in contrast to that of 2.25. When both phosphate and potash were used along with the lime, however, each unit of roots was 50% more efficient in making tops than when lime alone was used and 30% more efficient than when lime and phosphate were used. Potash was of greater effect when added to this combination than was the phosphate under the conditions of its addition.

Dry Matter and Nitrogen in the Tops and Roots of Sweet Clover with Different Soil Treatments
Dry Matter and Nitrogen in the Tops and Roots of Sweet Clover with Different Soil Treatments

Roots More Efficient in Putting Nitrogen into Plant Tops Because of Application of Potash

There was also a wide variation inw the efficiency with which a given amount of nitrogen in the roots was translocated to the tops under different soil treatments. In terms of total nitrogen per acre of roots and tops where the soil was limed, the nitrogen in the tops represented 2.3 times as much as that in the roots. Here the efficiency of the roots in putting nitrogen into the tops was about the same as the efficiency of the roots in making plant bulk, as shown by the similarity of the ratios. This is shown also by the fact that there was, coincidently, as much nitrogen in a ton of roots as in a ton of tops. When phosphate was used along with the lime on the soil, then the roots were about 50% more efficient in moving nitrogen into the tops, as shown by the ratio of 3.33 for the nitrogen in the tops to that in the roots. In terms of pounds of nitrogen per ton where lime and phosphate were used together, the figure for the roots was 30 and for the tops 38. However, when both phosphate and potash were used along with the lime, then the roots were 100% more efficient in putting nitrogen into the tops than with lime alone, as shown by the ratio of 4.74 for the former in contrast to the ratio of 2.30 for the latter. In terms of nitrogen per ton of roots grown with lime, phos­phate, and potash, the figure was 29, while for a ton of tops it was 41. Potash as a soil treatment in addition to lime and phosphate made for an increase in efficiency of concentrating nitrogen into the harvested tops which was twice that for the addition of phosphate to the lime as the soil treatment.


It is significant that potash used along with calcium and phosphate had the most outstanding effect of the three soil fertility factors concerned in these trials, not only in making for more plant bulk, but also in making for more total nitrogen in the crop per acre of tops and per acre of roots. Potash was the major factor also in making for a larger concentration of nitrogen in the tops while there was a lower concentration in the roots. All of this suggests that the potassium commonly associated with carbohydrate synthesis and metabolism in the plant can scarcely be divorced from the synthesis of proteins there. The carbohydrates, or what is so commonly emphasized as the product of photosynthesis formed under sunshine energy, may well be the raw material in terms of both the starting compound and the energy supply for the products of biosynthesis such as proteins, and the many other complexes elaborated and compounded by life processes rather than by those driven under sunshine power in the leaf. Here is the suggestion that calcium is helpful in the synthesis of nitrogenous compounds or proteins in the legumes and that this synthetic process demands, in advance, the carbohydrates for the synthesis of which potash is needed. On this soil, the maximum assemblage of nitrogen in sweetclover required potash as help in this performance.

While sweet clover is commonly considered the crop that can be established on most any soil by liming alone, after other and more desirable forage legumes have failed, one dare not forget that nitrogen delivery by this crop as well as its greater production of bulk call for other fertility elements beside calcium and phosphate. There may be many elements among these, but certainly there is the suggestion from these studies on Putnam silt loam, a prairie soil and a planosol in the common soil classification, that potassium is important when the higher nitrogen content of the sweet clover crop is considered. After our soils are once heavily limed this legume as a collector of nitrogen may need extra fertility elements in the soil, with potassium well near the top of the list.

Learn more about Albrecht on Soil Balancing, Vol. VII here.

About the Author:

Dr. William A. Albrecht, the author of these papers, was chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, where he had been a member of the staff for 43 years. He held four degrees from the University of Illinois. During a vivid and crowded career, he traveled widely and studied soils in the United States, Great Britain, on the European continent, and in Aus­tralia. Born on a farm in central Illinois in an area of highly fertile soil typical of the cornbelt and educated in his native state, Dr. Albrecht grew up with an intense interest in the soil and all things agricultural. Both as a writer and speaker, Dr. Albrecht served tirelessly as an inter­preter of scientific truth to inquiring minds and persistently stressed the basic importance of understanding and working with nature by applying the natural method to all farming, crop production, livestock raising and soil improvement. He always had a specific focus on the effect of soil character­istics upon the mineral composition of plants and the effect of the mineral composition of plants on animal nutrition and subsequent human health. Respected and recognized by scientists and agricultural leaders from around the world, Dr. Albrecht retired in 1959 and passed from the scene in May 1974 as his 86th birthday approached.

More By This Author:

Albrecht Papers Vol. 1-8 + Video, by Dr. William A. Albrecht

Albrecht’s Foundational Concepts, Vol. Iby Dr. William A. Albrecht

Check out the Albrecht collection for a full list of all his titles.

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Mangalitsa pigs are prized for their flavor.

By Mary Ann Lieser

Small-scale farmers looking to diversify their livestock should consider mangalitsa pigs, a heritage breed prized for flavor. Mangalitsas aren’t suited for large operations or industrial farms. They seldom produce more than eight piglets when they farrow, and it takes over a year for them to reach market size. But gourmet chefs and devoted gastronomes are willing to pay more for the meat, which many believe is the best-tasting pork in the world.

The breed was developed in the nineteenth century by Austrian emperor Franz Josef, who crossbred wild boars with several Hungarian and Serbian breeds. “Mangalitsa” means “hog with a lot of lard” in the Hungarian language, and the breed was popular in Hungary until the middle of the twentieth century, when larger farms and a demand for leaner meat led to dwindling numbers of mangalitsas. Hungary had fewer than 200 in the early 1990s, when animal geneticist Peter Toth began a breeding program and encouraged farmers to raise mangalitsas in order to preserve the breed’s gene pool. The motto “Eat them to save them” helped Hungary rediscover delicious mangalitsa sausage seasoned with paprika, and there are now thousands of mangalitsa sows in Hungary. Many have been exported as well. The first arrived in the US in 2007, and they’ve gained a devoted North American following.

For the last fifty or so years commercial pigs have been bred to have less fat and to reach market size quickly. But less fat also means less flavor. And more subtle scientific analysis is now demonstrating that the nutritional profile of lard-type pigs like the mangalitsa is not necessarily the health disaster it was previously assumed to be. Foodies have helped rehabilitate lard’s image. For example, lard has less saturated fat than butter does. And mangalitsa meat, especially when the pigs have spent time foraging outdoors, contains impressive levels of omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

Jacobs Heritage is a fourth generation family farm in northeast Ohio focused on heritage breeds of livestock, including poultry and lamb. Jennifer Jacobs has been keeping at least a couple of mangalitsas around the farm for the past seven years. She was first drawn to the breed because of her own Hungarian ethnic heritage, and because of the claims that foodies made, touting the meat’s juiciness, tenderness and flavor. She ordered some pork online and was impressed with the product — “Yes, it really is that good” — and acquired her first stock.

Ideally, mangalitsas spend most of their time outdoors and derive a portion of their nutrition from what they forage, whether in forest, pasture or meadow. They thrive in a wooded area that contains acorns, chestnuts, horse chestnuts or black walnuts, but can do well in almost any vegetative environment when supplemented with barley or wheat. Alfalfa, sunflower seeds, wheat bran, pumpkins and potatoes can provide additional supplementation; corn and soy aren’t recommended, as the resulting fat will be of lower quality.

At Jacobs Heritage Farm, the pigs forage less than twenty percent of their diet, as the bulk of what they eat in the summer is excess produce from another local farm. They get hay in the winter, and barley to finish on when they are close to processing time.

The distinctive fat is one of the mangalitsa’s prime selling points. Most modern breeds are over fifty percent lean, but mangalitsa meat — reddish flesh strikingly marbled with creamy white — is sixty-five to seventy percent fat. That high fat content means the meat can spend a longer time curing and developing flavor, because it can retain moisture during a long drying process, resulting in superior bacon and ham. Slow Food USA added the mangalitsa to its Ark of Taste, a “living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction,” for that reason.

Mangalitsas are also the only remaining wooly breed of pig. There were others that are now extinct. Covered with a sheep-like fleece that can be black, red or blond, mangalitsas have a distinctive appearance. Their wool is coarse and doesn’t have a practical use beyond keeping the pigs warm in cold weather. The wool makes them hardy in cold climates, but mangalitsas are currently being raised as far south as Florida. In warmer areas they shed more. And even in colder climates where they can thrive during extreme winters, the pigs need access to shelter where they can escape the elements when they choose.

Beyond that shelter, some electric fencing to define their boundaries and some supplements to their forage, mangalitsas don’t require much. They’re a hardy, low-maintenance breed. They are known for having calm and easygoing dispositions, being good mothers when they farrow, and being relatively problem-free. They are rooters, though, and they can tear up an area when foraging. When mangalitsas are rotated through pastures, replanting might be necessary.

Jacobs Heritage Farm keeps their mangalitsas in a pasture, with shelter available, and they haven’t had to do any replanting. “The pasture does manage to regrow naturally in the summer in spite of the pig damage. A section of their pasture floods too, when there is a lot of rain, and the pigs love that, especially when it’s warm out. They forage in the water too.”

Most farmers new to the breed start with two gilts and a boar; mangalitsas are social and do well in larger groupings too. Some breeders are experimenting by crossing the breed with Hampshires or Berkshires to shorten the time to market. Purebred mangalitsas should not be processed until fifteen months old, since it takes them about twice as long as other breeds to reach 280 to 300 pounds. When they are butchered, seam cutting is recommended in order to preserve the meat’s marbling. And be prepared for lots of lard, which can be whipped, braised or smoked with excellent results.

Most of Jacobs Heritage Farm’s pork customers find them via the farm’s website or through word-of-mouth. Once a potential customer samples the product they usually want more. As Jennifer says, “Red, deep, flavorful mangalitsa pork is quite different from tough, commercial, fast-growing ‘other white meat’ pork that is typical in the USA. It takes time and work to develop a market for this unique meat. But it is worth it.”

Three 2021 Trends in the Evolution of Agrimarketing

By Jorge Abrego
Acres U.S.A. Advertising Director

In agriculture, change has become the status quo. From global mergers and acquisitions, to the rapid emergence of new business start-ups and ag tech innovations, to industry-wide consolidation and digitization, companies of all sizes are responding to new pressures, forced to abandon their old ways to meet the needs of evolving consumer, market and grower demands.

Now that 2020 has passed, no one would have been aware that major change was afoot in our industry—but we could not have predicted just how significantly the pandemic of 2020 would affect our personal and professional lives. Nor could we have foreseen the speed with which agrimarketers would have to adapt to many of the new realities regarding virtual and digital tactics and opportunities

That said, it has been great to see the efforts our fellow agrimarketers embrace the change that was thrust upon them, and proactively address their need for engagement and connection to their audiences. Before getting into the trends, it’s important to mention that agriculture has for years assumed that our industry is so unique that trends and best practices that apply elsewhere don’t fit or reflect our reality. However, as the global pandemic has shown us, agriculture is more similar to other industries than we might care to admit, with ag companies facing many of the same challenges and opportunities as those in other sectors.

Leveraging Brand Equity

When compared to other industries, agriculture hasn’t been as strategic in the development and management of brands, and the lack of strong differentiation and brand stewardship (i.e. brand equity building) has meant that suppliers are leaving value on the table at a time when it is increasingly difficult to generate margin based on product performance alone (given the parity of performance now being achieved between most products in ag).

While the discipline of brand strategy should remain a trend all agrimarketers continue to follow and advance within their organizations, we want to speak more directly to a specific brand strategy emerging/re-emerging in other industries that can also target the farmer customer.

The strategic trend we’re speaking of is brand extension (also known as brand expansion). While this brand strategy isn’t new (it’s been used in the beverage and consumer packaged goods industries for decades), there are some great examples of it in the marketplace today that agrimarketers can learn from and apply to their future brand strategies.  To build greater equity in the brands they steward, ag organizations should consider a brand extension when introducing new products and services, and/or entering new markets.

Agriculture generally suffers from having too many brands, and from the tendency to create new brands for new markets when it may not be necessary to do so. Brand extension, in contrast, provides a different strategic approach that offers benefits beyond the leveraging of a name. So if your company is developing a new product or entering a new market in 2021, you might consider making brand extension the core of your strategy, as it may net you the best results.

Consider these two Brand-Extension examples from the auto industry:

Mustang and Hummer. In both instances, Ford and GM have identified key new market opportunity in the electric vehicle market and have made the strategic decision to do so under existing product brands. They each made the decision to use existing product brands that have never been “extended” in both cases they have chosen brands with very rich back-stories and strong consumer equity.

In the case of Mustang, Ford is taking an iconic brand that is best known for defining the sports car market and using it to redefine what consumers should expect from an electric vehicle. Whereas with Hummer, GM is using a brand that signifies rugged, off-road prowess, to show that our electric futures aren’t just relegated to city and highway driving. Even more interesting is the fact that in both cases, one can see that this brand extension strategy isn’t intended to simply leverage brand name recognition and appeal to improve new market entry, but also to significantly grow these existing brands by overcoming some of their strategic weaknesses.

in both cases, Ford and GM are using the brand expansions to reposition not just what consumers should expect from products in the electric vehicle market, but also to reposition what consumers should expect from these iconic brands.

Key benefits to a brand extension are;

  • Enhances brand image
  • Provides promotional economies of scale as marketing for the core brand and its extension reinforces each other
  • Reduces the risk perceived by the customer
  • Eliminates the cost of developing a new brand
  • Improves the likelihood of gaining distribution and trial

Marketing Budgets are Increasing

As agrimarketing emerges from the global pandemic, the good news is marketing budgets for 2021 are increasing. A quarter of ag marketers are working with 15% or high increase over last year. That’s great news considering the wealth of free and paid digital media options available for B2B marketing.

When it comes to B2B agrimarketers, 76% say they have a formal marketing plan, helping to shape and give direction to their marketing activities. However, this means that nearly a quarter (24%) still don’t have their formal plan in place. This can result in missing opportunities and marketing activities that aren’t integrated. When delivering their marketing plans, most agrimarketers (56%) use a combination of in-house and outsourced expertise, allowing them to make the most of others’ expertise while investing in external resources when required.

While digital marketing is great at driving leads to your website, your site needs to offer the best possible experience in order to convince them to convert. This is likely why 51% of respondents are allocating budget to website development. This tends to be an expensive area, but with search engines judging sites on speed and other factors and people having higher expectations, it is an expense that will pay off.

Digital marketing equates to the biggest marketing spend across all B2B companies, with 56% allocating budget to it. The increase is telling of a real need for agrimarketers to find the appropriate balance of media spending across channels to ensure a truly integrated model they can leverage for effective engagement of their target audiences as they work their way through the marketing funnel.

Top areas of marketing spend graphc
Source: Smart Insights, February 2021

In terms of marketing objectives for B2B organizations in 2021, the top one probably won’t come as a surprise. Companies leverage various marketing tactics to increase sales leads for their sales departments.

Converting leads into customers is objective number 2, recognizing that lead nurturing is a complex journey with a number of micro and macro environmental factors at play.

Number 3 is increasing brand awareness, and in ag marketing this is primarily staking out brand/product differentiation that ensures a product’s unique attributes and features are understood.

Producing thought leadership is number 4 and is a key for increasing leads and staking out a unique position in the market that is known for the right reasons.

List of top areas of spending and marketing objectives for B2B in 2021
Source: Smart Insights, February 2021

Growing Size of Wallet Versus Share of Wallet

For many years, the primary focus for many agrimarketers has been the quest to grow share of wallet with farmer customers. This led to much of the consolidation we have seen over the years, where some of the largest ag entities in the world have continually acquired stakes in many of the major crop input (i.e. seed, chem, fertilizer) and essential service offerings (i.e. data, marketing, consultation) as a means of providing customers with one-stop business alternatives.

Unfortunately, the “share of wallet” approach has its limitations when the size of the customer’s wallet remains relatively fixed, or even decreases. More specifically, when farmers have relatively the same amount or less to spend year after year, their focus will inherently remain on priority purchases (i.e. the essential crop inputs) meaning that the only way for a single business to grow is to:

  1. Enter into more of these priority offerings, or
  2. Steal share from competitors

That said, leveraging your existing brand equity to launch new products is of course an important strategic decision that not all agrimarketers are able to accomplish for a variety of reasons as many of the major players have already diversified their offerings, this leaves them with only the steal share option.

Now, while fighting for market share or share of wallet isn’t a bad thing, when the farmer’s main focus is on priority purchases, it leaves little if any room for growth into value-added offerings such as biologicals and precision agriculture. And as we have seen in our experiences with companies and brands in these value-added spaces, it has likely been the farmer customer’s lack of discretionary dollars over the past few years, and not their questioning of the product’s validity, that has hindered the growth of these markets the most.

As we move through 2021 and beyond, regenerative agrimarketers who wish to grow their value-added products will need to find ways to grow their customer’s overall wallet size. To do so, they will need to make the significant shift of thinking about their customer’s profitability as well as their own and embrace ways of driving down costs—not to simply increase their own margin but to free up customer spending.

A great example of this “size of wallet” approach can be seen in the CRM and sales enablement software industry, specifically with companies such as Salesforce and HubSpot.

While both of these companies provide a significant range of offerings and obviously want a large share of their customer’s wallet, they understand that to continually grow they can’t simply rely on their own pricing and profitability.

 Instead, they have both tied their success to their customers’ success, knowing that the more profitable their customers are, the more income they will have to spend on more offerings. And, in turn, these new offerings focus on making the customer even more profitable so that the cycle of growth can continue.

In this approach, there is less of the perceived conflict between the business’s margins and the customer’s profitability that can exist in agriculture, as both parties understand and embrace the notion that mutual growth and success is the best means of ensuring win-win outcomes.

charts comparing company growth and revenue
C-level and VP business leaders in the US, UK, Ireland and Mexico: 515 Growing ag companies, 237 Stagnant ag companies. Source: HubSpot Customer Success Survey, Q4 2020.

Given the urgently shared need for regenerative farmers to succeed, an increasing number of new and existing agrimarketers look to grow their businesses in innovative and transformative  market offerings, to shift from carving off and/or increasing share of a finite wallet to growing the size of the wallet of the framer customer altogether.

Learn more about advertising opportunities with Acres U.S.A. here.

Jorge Abrego is the Advertising Director for Acres U.S.A.and has 26 years of advertising agency and B2B media experience in the agriculture, energy and technology sectors.

Tractor Time Episode 55: Mark Bittman on ‘Animal, Vegetable, Junk’

For 30-plus years, Mark Bittman has been, hands-down, the most influential food writer in America. He worked as a star food columnist at the New York Times. He’s written 16 best-selling books and cookbooks, including How to Cook Everything, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and The Minimalist Cooks at Home.

His latest book is Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal. It isn’t a cookbook. You won’t find any recipes in it. Instead, it’s an ambitious and clear-eyed survey of the past, present and future of agriculture. From the advent of farming over 10,000 years ago to the rise of industrial agriculture and hyper-processed junk food, Bittman somehow manages to synthesize thousands of years of history into a thoughtful and convincing argument for radical change within our modern food system.

And although it isn’t a cookbook, I wouldn’t say the book is a departure from his past work — it’s the culmination and the crowning achievement to a life dedicated to teaching people how to cook, and eat, ethically, healthfully and with pleasure.

Buy the book at the bookstore. Use the coupon code MAYPOD for 10% off on all titles.

Rethinking Pests, Invasive Species, and Other Paradigms

Welcome to Book of the Week – offering you a glimpse between the pages!  Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! This week’s Book of the Week feature is Farming on the Wild Side, by Nancy and John Hayden. It was reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Buy Farming on the Wild Side now!

As a farm that values diversity, we don’t have many biological enemies. At least we don’t think of them that way. Certain plants are allies in the places we want them, sequestering carbon, filtering water, and creating fertility, and become “weeds” only when they compete with our plantings. We do spend a fair amount of time and effort on weed management. For our crops to thrive, we need to keep the grasses and other weeds out of the propagation beds and berry bush plantings, and in check during the early years of fruit tree establishment. Weed management isn’t always easy, though. Plants have a lot of life force and want to grow!

We use a variety of techniques to keep the weeds at bay, including hand weeding, landscape fabric, and sheet mulching with cardboard close to the plants. Landscape fabric is great because it can be reused year after year, but it’s not a good idea to leave it down over the winter, because it provides a safe cover for voles, which can then be a problem in themselves by girdling trees and shrubs in the winter. There’s a pesky rodent! If we use proper vegetation management around bushes and shrubs, including vole guards on the trees, we can keep their dam- age to a minimum. They then become just another coinhabitant of the land. Did we mention that we like foxes?

We put nets on certain crops such as honeyberries, red currants, and blueberries before they ripen, to protect them from birds that are “pests” for only a short time in the summer. We take the nets off when we’re done with the harvest, allowing the birds to clean up the fruit. This strategy helps reduce other pest problems, like spotted wing drosophila, in our early berry crops.

Photo courtesy of Alisha Utter.

Our diversity of crops allows us to withstand occasional pest out- breaks and potential crop losses by leaning on the income from other crops until a balance is reestablished. We depend mostly on biodiversity and ecological intensification practices to limit insect pests. We should differentiate here between pests and pest outbreaks. You some- times hear or read in alternative agriculture circles that pests on a plant reflect an unhealthy plant or soil conditions. We don’t think that is correct. We consider having a diversity of insects, including those that eat crop plants, as part of the natural balance. A pest outbreak occurs when the population of an insect increases to the point where it can cause high economic damage to a crop. A low level of pests keeps the predators and parasites fed and happy and working. Wiping every- one out with insecticides causes wild fluctuations in pest populations, as their populations tend to grow faster than predators’ populations.

If we grew only one crop, with clean fields and field margins, we, too, would be anxious about pests and potential losses; so we can understand why monoculture farmers turn to pesticides for insurance and assurance. But it is a treadmill, and we don’t understand why they keep insisting on monocultures. Of course, the chemical companies know how to exploit fear with their marketing. Many of the pesticide advertisements in the trade magazines look like horror movie bill- boards, with giant caterpillars and their gaping fangs coming to get you. Pesticide companies are not necessarily the farmer’s friend. They are more like parasites themselves, making their living off farmers. A good parasite doesn’t kill its host, though.

The goals of efficiency and economy of scale (which is purely about maximizing profits) are still part of the mainstream cultural mentality in our society. We’ve shown that a small-scale diverse farm has certain ecological and economic advantages. We try to be efficient in our labor and harvests, but it’s not critical to our bottom line to wring every last berry from the land. We can afford to share a little with our coinhabitants. As regenerative farmers, we’re trying to find the right balance for us and the so-called pests to coexist.

This isn’t to say that it’s all unicorns and rainbows at our farm in Vermont, The Farm Between. Pest outbreaks occur because of things beyond our control— like the weather or newly introduced pests such as Spotted Wing Drosophila (more on SWD below). There’s this idea floating around that if you have a biodiverse organic farm with good soils and good management that everything will be pest resistant and in perfect balance all the time. No way. Species populations are cyclic; outbreaks and subsequent crashes occur. That’s often how an overall balance is maintained.

Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD)

This little fruit fly, Drosophila suzukii, has become enemy number one of berry growers in much of the United States. Originally from Southeast Asia, it was first noticed in California in 2008 and has since spread throughout the United States. It made its way to Vermont in 2012. We first found it in our everbearing strawberries toward the end of June that very year. When we realized what was making the berries mushy, we panicked and tilled the whole patch under, hoping that would prevent the fly’s spread to the rest of the farm. In hindsight, that was pretty silly. After all, you can’t keep a pest like SWD out.

John and Nancy Hayden. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sipe.

Unlike the regular old vinegar fruit fly that can only lay her eggs on rotting or damaged fruit, SWD females have a knifelike serrated ovipositor—the egg-laying part of the female—that can cut into unripe and undamaged fruit. After cutting her way inside, she typically lays one to three eggs. The males are easy to identify because of their spotted wings. The adults and possibly pupae overwinter in leaf litter, duff, and rotting fruit. During the growing season, adults typically live for a few weeks. A female can lay three hundred or more eggs in her lifetime. Depending on the temperature, it takes a week or two to go from egg to adult, but they can cycle through many generations per growing season if you have a variety of fruit, as we do. As the season progresses, their populations can increase to damaging levels.

We no longer grow everbearing strawberries, not only because of the SWD, but also because we want to stick with perennial fruit. We’ve never seen them in the honeyberries, another reason we love these early berries. They show up in the blueberries usually after a couple of weeks into the picking season. When our fall raspberries start ripening in August, it might be a week or two before we start noticing damage. They’re in the elderberries come late August and September. We’ve even seen them in fall native fruits such as highbush cranberry and silky dogwood and wonder what the ecological ramifications are of reducing these food sources for wildlife.

SWD numbers and their damage seem to vary based on the weather. They don’t like it hot and dry. Unfortunately, the weather is beyond our control. Damage also varies based on picking hygiene, and this is within our control. Picking often and picking clean is the best way to curb their numbers and their damage. This also means sorting berries during or after picking. We need to do this anyway for other pests such as slugs, snails, Japanese beetles, and birds. Usually, the impact of these other pests is minimal, however. SWD can be severe if we’re not careful. The times we’ve been lackadaisical about picking regularly, or when other people pick who aren’t thorough, are the times we might find considerable numbers of SWD-damaged berries.

We try never to leave mushy berries on the bush. The really damaged berries get solarized in clear plastic bags if the numbers are high, or in the case of raspberries, we smoosh them onto the black plastic walkways or in the dry duff in the greenhouse floor when there are only a few. If this doesn’t kill them outright, it will cause the larvae to dry out and die. Lightly or slightly damaged berries can still be used to make fruit syrups. Berries with no visible damage are sold fresh or frozen. The raspberry receptacle that is left on the stem after picking will be white when there is no damage and stained pink if a “young one” (code for SWD maggot) has been feeding there.

Even though we don’t like this new pest, we’ve gotten over it to some extent. We figured out how to manage and live with it. We accept that we’re going to have losses, which might be as high as 20 percent in raspberries, given the weather and management conditions. With a wet summer, elderberry losses can be even higher. We’ve experimented with netting individual elderberry panicles using the type of nylon sock that shoe stores use for trying on shoes. Enclosing the panicle of green fruit within the nylon sock and closing it off at the stem with a twist tie prevents access to the fruit by SWD but allows the berries to ripen. Given the time involved to sock each panicle, we figure this makes economic sense only when SWD numbers are high and with big-berry, heavy-producing varieties like Marge.

Learn more about Farming on the Wild Side here!

About the Authors:

Nancy Hayden has an MFA in creative writing and is a retired environmental engineering professor at the University of Vermont. John Hayden has served as a pest management researcher, extension agent, international consultant, and university educator. The Haydens have been owners of The Farm Between in Jeffersonville, Vermont, since 1992.

Organic Farming Doesn’t Have to Mean Excessive Tillage

A roller-crimper works its magic in a field of rye.

By Sam Malriat

Rodale Institute’s organic farm consultants have spent the last 18 months working with farmers nationwide to transition their operations to organic. During our conversations with conventional, transitioning, and even some new organic farmers across the country, we often encounter the misconception that organic farming is a system built on intensive tillage. However, our goal is to show that this isn’t always the case.

This assumption is partly based on the reality that organic farmers have a limited number of non-mechanical tools for weed control at their disposal. But it also ignores the fact that there is a growing contingent of organic farmers making their systems work without tillage, or with tillage implemented in a rare, responsible way. Additionally, production systems using reduced or infrequent tillage may not be as detrimental to soil health as previously thought.

The no-till movement has brought the concept of soil health into the mainstream over the past decade, which in turn has caused the entire supply chain to consider how soil relates to our food system and human health. Farmers are increasingly exploring certified organic production as a means of reaping both the financial and environmental benefits of on-farm soil-building efforts.

However, we find that a significant number of conventional no-till farmers are concerned that a transition to organic production requires an exponential increase in tillage; they’re worried about losing the soil structure they’ve worked hard to maintain. While intense tillage may have been the prevailing practice on organic farms 30 years ago, that assumption is now not only dated, but directly preventing progress on farms across the country. The organic farming community, which is now made up of a host of former conventional and sustainable farmers, has fully recognized the benefits of no-till methods.

There’s an abundance of evidence that no-till agriculture has a positive impact on soil health. The concept of keeping living cover on soil for as long as possible has translated well to a variety of production systems. As of 2017, approximately 21% of row-crop farmers were operating under a continuous no-till system, and it’s likely that number is higher today. In some parts of the United States, no-till is a necessity; it has offered a way of preserving highly erodible soils and maximizing water availability where precipitation is limited. In just 50 years, we’ve gone from a production system characterized by continuous and routine primary and secondary tillage to a system soon to be dominated by no tillage whatsoever. While this provides some benefit to farmers and natural resources, is it possible that we’re on track for a slight over-correction?

There are tested, successful organic no-till techniques that can be implemented on more farms without compromising no-till principles. But no-till isn’t the only way to build healthy soils. In most cases, the combination of an application of compost and manure, the long-term use of cover crops, and the effective rotation of diverse cash crops has a more positive impact on soil health and productivity than continuous no-till alone.

Between the two extremes of no-till and excessive tillage, there may exist a middle ground for farmers who want to go organic but don’t want to sacrifice their carefully built organic matter. Studies show that tillage implemented in a responsible way can still foster healthy soils.

Take the most recent results from the Pasa Sustainable Agriculture Soil Health Benchmark Study report, an effort to quantify and compare soil health across 100 farms in the Mid-Atlantic United States. It states that “it would … be reasonable to predict that soil disturbance could have a drastic and unavoidable negative impact on soil health. If this were true, we would expect a steep and consistent negative relationship between tillage intensity and organic matter… Our data do not support these predictions. Instead, we found a shallow and weak correlation between tillage intensity and organic matter. Our data indicate it’s possible to achieve optimal soil health while still conservatively tilling and cultivating to control weeds and terminate cover crops.”

As with most things, we may find that moderation prevails. If you’re a conventional no-till farmer wary of organic production because you’re under the impression that it requires excessive tillage, know that there are options for you that don’t require a full-scale tillage routine, but leaves room for you to be open to its use as a rare tool. Adding cover crops to your rotation or utilizing manure from a local source can help buffer the impact of tillage events. However you decide to manage your operation, making an investment in a certified organic system now, with or without tillage, will undoubtedly position your operation for long-term success.

Sam is the Director of the Organic Consulting program at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. Please visit for more information. Farmers interested in transitioning their land to organic and participating in one or more of these opportunities can contact Rodale Institute’s Organic Crop Consulting Services to get started. Reach out at or 610-683-1416.

Restoration Agriculture: The Transitional Strategy

Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature of an Acres U.S.A. published title offering you a glimpse between the pages! Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your inbox! This week’s feature is Restoration Agriculture, by Mark Shepard.

In previous chapters I have described many of the reasons why restoration agriculture is needed. I have shown that it can produce more human food per acre than annual agriculture and how and why this is so. The previous chapter gave a brief outline describing the need for a fundamental redesign of the relationship between the land and water. In this chapter I will briefly describe some basic cropping strategies for transitioning from annual agriculture to a perennial polyculture system.


Agroforestry is a term that is used to describe a set of agricultural practices in which woody plants, especially trees, are integrated with annual crops or livestock on the same piece of cropland. Although widely practiced around
the world, agroforestry was not an official USDA-accepted agricultural practice until the mid-1980s. Even today, although some agroforestry practices are eligible for federal cost-sharing money, in the grand scheme of things relatively little agroforestry is being practiced in North America.

For the practitioner of restoration agriculture agroforestry represents the transitional forms that help a farmer or rancher transform his or her operation from an annual system to a more perennial system. Agroforestry practices allow a farmer to continue to do what they are doing today while they install the perennials that will be the mainstay of their future. Current cash flow is preserved while future cash flow is getting established and starts to grow. This is a critical element in restoration agriculture. Agroforestry represents the techniques that we use to bridge the gap between annual and perennial crops.

The transition from a cornfield to a deeply diverse, food-producing savanna system takes time. Succession must take place. Agroforestry will help us to leap across the scary chasm of the unknown during the years while our perennial crops mature and begin to bear fruit.

North American agroforestry is focused around five major practices — each with their own USDA technical manual describing it. The technical manual must be followed step-by-step if federal cost-sharing money is sought. Agriculture extension agents and USDA employees will refuse to offer assistance dealing with agroforestry practices unless they have a copy of the technical manual describing the practice (only then does this give them permission to help you) and are reminded of the USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework adopted during the Obama administration.

The Agroforestry Strategic Framework (2011-16) outlines strategies that the USDA claims to promote in order to create productive, healthy farms, ranches, woodlands and communities. To do so, the USDA will provide knowledge, tools, and assistance to combine agriculture and forestry for the benefit of the landowner, the community and the nation.

Now that you are aware that the USDA itself wants to promote these important techniques, you have legitimacy in the eyes of “Big Ag” and the folks looking at what you are doing on your farm while scratching their heads. The officially USDA-accepted agroforestry practices are as follows: windbreaks, riparian buffers, alley cropping, silvopasture and forest farming. A sixth practice was officially accepted on several occasions in the 1990s and 2000s, but suffered a slow, death by the bureaucratic process. The sixth practice had several different names, my favorite of which was “multi-story cropping systems,” a term which actually begins to approach restoration agriculture in many respects. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats who were responsible for the development of the technical manual describing the practice had zero experience planting or managing such systems, and the practice that they eventually described was, for all practical purposes, totally unworkable. In some agroforestry circles the term “special applications” is used in order to include things like “multi-story cropping systems,” the growing of woody biomass crops, as well as restoration agriculture and permaculture systems.

Putting the ineptness of those with no experience aside, the five officially accepted agroforestry practices actually are workable and provide an excellent transitional model for restoration agriculturists. Since agroforestry has actually been written about for decades and has been extensively researched, you are welcome to hide behind the vanguard of agroforestry when neighbors and family begin to wonder what you are doing. The restoration agriculture farmer
is practicing agroforestry. We have not gone off the deep end; we are merely following good USDA agricultural practices that have the backing of universities and government agencies. Believe me, this can be important sometimes. The difference between USDA-approved agroforestry and restoration agriculture is that the latter is the practice of agroforestry on ecological steroids!

Agroforestry practices are relatively simple systems that are universally applicable in nearly all regions of the world. Probably the simplest of the practices and easiest to install and manage are windbreaks. Windbreaks are linear plantings of trees or shrubs that are intended to mitigate the effects of the wind. Windbreaks help to prevent desiccation in field crops. They can prevent mechanical crop damage from wind-thrash and wind-throw. They can help prevent wind-generated soil erosion, preserving valuable topsoil, and preventing the sand-blasting of delicate field crops such as squash, melons, peppers and eggplants.

Much in the same way that windbreaks can protect field crops from the effects of wind, they can also be used to protect buildings from the same damage. Winter heating costs in buildings can be dramatically reduced with the
proper planting of windbreaks, and the relentless winds of the Canadian prairie provinces can be mellowed to such a degree that the land immediately around the farmstead can become a pleasant microclimate suitable for badminton in the summer instead of just parasailing or studying wind-tunnel aerodynamics.

In the same manner that windbreaks can help to create sheltered spots for picnics, they can be used to dramatically reduce livestock stress. Windbreaks can provide shade against the summer heat and shelter from the shivering winter winds. Animals protected from winter winds require less feed to keep warm, reducing feed costs, animal mortality, and thereby helping the farmer’s bottom line. Additionally, windbreaks are now being widely planted to block the view of increasingly unpopular animal confinement facilities while simultaneously reducing escaped odors.
Windbreaks can help to prevent chemical drift in either direction, either from the property in question (thereby reducing the risk of overspray liability) or they can help to prevent chemical drift coming onto a site from outside the property.

The hybrid poplars surrounding New Forest Farm, planted purposefully as sacrificial trees, have taken a hit for the team during herbicide overspray events on a number of occasions. Instead of losing valuable chestnut or apple crops, all that was lost were a few thousand leaves and a month of growth on the inexpensive, fast-growing, expendable hybrid poplars. Windbreaks provide a wide diversity of habitats for numerous beneficial organisms from the obvious nesting sites for birds to the not-so-obvious alternative pollen sources and homes for native wild bees. They provide shelter for tree frogs and toads, insectivorous spiders, and praying mantises and hiding sites for upland game birds such as pheasant, quail and grouse. This feature can add another enterprise to the farm — selling leases for bird hunting enthusiasts or offering tours for birdwatchers seeking the elusive bird “du jour.”

When planted along roadsides or driveways windbreaks can act as living snow fences. You don’t have to plow the snow from your driveway if you never let drifts accumulate there in the first place. With careful observation and planning you can design living snow fences so that drifts can be deposited where you would like to see increased soil moisture in the springtime and away from vehicle driving areas. Or windbreaks can be designed to spread out drifting snow for a more even accumulation of moisture. Yes, you can actually steer snowdrifts to reduce the need for plowing your driveway and to increase the soil moisture in a spot where you have planted some moisture-loving species.

Windbreaks can be made of varying densities, allowing for more or less wind penetration. They can be made of taller or shorter trees, in multiple or single rows, and using evergreens or deciduous trees (or a combination of all the above). Evergreens are more impenetrable to the wind and would be more suitable for livestock and homestead shelter, whereas more widely spaced deciduous trees would be more suited for breaking up a driving wind and for
scattering snow more widely. Multiple rows of trees can be used to catch snow in between them. They will also capture autumn leaves or drifted topsoil from a neighbor’s property. Although the idea of a windbreak may seem simple, their uses are only limited by the creativity of the observant landowner. In my opinion, the creative use of windbreaks has only begun to be explored.

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About the Author:

Mark Shepard heads Forest Agriculture Enterprises and runs New Forest Farm, an 106-acre commercial-scale perennial agricultural ecosystem that was converted from a row-crop grain farm. Trained in mechanical engineering and ecology, Mark has combined these two passions to develop equipment and processes for the cultivation, harvesting and processing of forest-derived agricultural products for human foods and biofuel production. Mark is a certified permaculture designer and teaches agroforestry and permaculture around the world.

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Similar Books of Interest:

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Landby Gary Paul Nabhan

The Woodland Homesteadby Brett McLeod

Sepp Holzer’s Permacultureby Sepp Holzer