Farmer: SFA and Midwest Soil Health Summit critical to achieving sustainable goals
By Kassie Brown • SFA Communications Intern
Recent recipient of the Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Beef Magazine’s Trailblazer of 2016, Outstanding Conservationist Honoree, and Cattleman of the Year: With credentials like these, one could assume that Grant Breitkreutz’s only reason for attending and presenting at this year’s Midwest Soil Health Summit is to show off his well-deserved medallions. Quite the contrary, Breitkreutz said the most valuable aspect of the MSHS is the space it provides for sharing ideas, learning from other farmers, and finding interesting approaches to mimic on his Stoney Creek Farm near Redwood Falls, Minn.
At Stoney Creek Farm, Grant and his wife, Dawn, practice no-till row cropping and intensive rotational grazing as well as diversified cover cropping. By late summer, their cover cropped acres are waist high and provide nutrient-dense forage for their cow/calf operation. Despite his successes, Breitkreutz still appreciates attending the MSHS to hear about the experiments tried and conclusions drawn by like-minded producers. He said it is very reassuring to hear success stories from other farmers who are trying similar cover cropping, no-till, and intensive rotational grazing systems, and he values the ongoing education that has continually nudged him in the direction of conservation.
Breitkreutz relies on the Sustainable Farming Association to obtain and chronicle on-farm monitoring data regarding water infiltration, plant nutrient density, and more. SFA has provided the Breitkreutz farm with a wealth of knowledge, guidance, and lab access, which has empowered Breitkreutz and his family toward their inspiring stewardship. Because of this diligent conservation work, Stoney Creek Farm has welcomed the return of wildlife, celebrated consistent yields with lowered input costs, and raised healthier livestock.
Above and beyond all of this, Breitkreutz said the number one thing he is excited to talk about at this year’s Midwest Soil Health Summit are the amazing changes he is seeing in soil structure and the resulting improvements in water infiltration – this past summer was one of the wettest on record in western Minnesota. Entering Redwood County, it was astounding to see the deeply flooded fields, washed-out roads, and submerged crops. Surprisingly, Stoney Creek Farm’s corn stood mightily in perfectly spongy earth where water infiltration was taking place at a rate high enough for the land to drink up such massive quantities of rain.
“Seeing is believing,” Breitkreutz said, and he is anxious to show pictures from his farm where this year’s exceptional rains left far fewer pools and less muddy mess to trap his equipment than in neighboring fields where tillage has not been reduced.
So many solutions these days require more: more work, more time, more money, what have you. Importantly, Grant’s solutions toward a sustainable farming model are mostly asking for less: less tillage and fewer inputs for a more in-tune with nature approach. What’s more, this approach is very clearly working! Corn fields are not supposed to be marshes (or dry dust bowls in other climates) and, as Breitkreutz’s fields illustrate, they don’t have to be. The added root mass and organic matter produced from cover cropping encourages the return of important soil microbes, which benefit plant and animal health while also increasing the soil’s water holding capacity. Reducing tillage helps keep this microbial life alive, especially the more delicate fungal species crucial to a healthy soil food web. By putting these basic concepts into practice, Breitkreutz has significantly improved the well-being of his entire farm.
Breitkreutz said it usually takes at least three times repeating before people start catching on to new concepts or new ways of doing things. His evolution into a more sustainable farming methodology followed this general truth and he agrees that the presentations, conversations, and mentorship provided by SFA and through the Midwest Soil Health Summit could not have been more valuable in solidifying his confidence.
Additionally, through SFA, Breitkreutz has connected with The Pasture Project, which has led him into conversations and research opportunities with Dr. Allen Williams and Warren King. Overall, it is this community of like-minded people and the visible results from Grant’s own experimentation that will keep this trailblazing environmental steward motivated to further his conservation efforts.
To learn more about the great work being done by Grant and his family at Stoney Creek Farm, join them at the 2017 Midwest Soil Health Summit, where Grant will be presenting some of his conclusions from the growing season. Also, keep your eye out for a video by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association documenting and celebrating the Breitkreutz farm for its inspiring environmental stewardship.