This award-winning farm is rooted in conservation and diversity
Prairie Paradise Farms, run by Levi Neuharth and his wife Crystal in Stanley County, South Dakota, is the picture of diversity.
Hens preen their feathers in the dust under an old red feed cart while a pair of peacocks clamber over a hay rack, proudly spreading their huge multicolored fans. They crane their necks and cut through the still morning air with shrill cries. Pheasants cackle in a distant field, roosters claim territory in turf wars.
In the dark blue gesture of the morning, goats bleat as they are herded to a faded barn by young children, eager to be milked and fed.
Herds of black cattle dot the horizon half a mile down the road, all facing the same direction, heads bowed, grazing and contented.
A llama, with its mouth bulging with food, chews madly as it watches a pen of growling pigs pushing and jostling, a young blond boy dumping buckets of food into their water trough.
Not only is the livestock diverse, but the Neuharths maintain a diverse crop rotation that also incorporates grazing livestock. They farm about 2,300 acres of farmland and about 3,000 acres of grassland.
For their work, the Neuharths are recipients of the 2021 Leopold Conservation Award, an award that recognizes private landowners who inspire others through their dedication to the land, water and wildlife resources in their care. The prize is awarded in honor of the famous environmentalist Aldo Leopold.
“Winning the Leopold Prize was a very big honour,” says Levi. “It’s very humiliating.”
Crystal agrees: “It leaves us speechless. Thinking in light of some of the other farmers and ranchers who have been awarded – it is so gratifying to see that our hard work is making a difference and we hope to continue to share our message.
The Neuharths: (Back) Crystal, Jonathan, Kaydee, Levi and Justin (Front)
Develop a legacy
Levi has lived on these acres all his life, farming with his father, David Neuharth, who was a city kid who dreamed of running a farm or ranch.
“Whenever I had the opportunity to come to the country to see people working on farms, that’s what I did. And eventually I worked for farmers and learned more about farming,” says Elder Neuharth. “We had the opportunity to lease land and then the opportunity to build a place.”
“We raised Levi here and now we watch Levi raise his family,” he says. “We are only here for a short time and we have to take care of what we have and pass it on to the next generation. And Levi has done a wonderful job with his family, involving them all,” he smiles proudly. “If you have a will, there is a way.”
The Neuharths operated as grazers throughout the season, but switched to a rotation system that keeps the roots alive in the ground longer.
Over time, they turned some agricultural land into grass, which encouraged wildlife populations of pheasants and deer to thrive.
Crystal says: “It’s very gratifying to notice the amount of wildlife we see when we drive out. It is not uncommon to see pheasants, prairie chickens, grouse and deer with babies. It’s very peaceful, and knowing that we’re providing them with the habitat they need to maintain their numbers is wonderful.
“This grass has also been added to our rotational grazing methods, allowing us to add more livestock,” says Neuharth. “We’ve also put new fencing around the entire section of expired CRP and an old hay field, and we’re rotating that as well.”
Their practices are also a great advantage during extreme weather conditions.
“It’s been very, very dry this year,” said Neuharth. “And for the most part, we were able to harvest a quality crop. I think our practices have helped this crop survive as much as possible by retaining moisture from previous years. »
“When we harvest winter wheat with our header, we leave residue behind,” says Neuharth. “We just remove the heads. This remnant is a friend of mine. When it gets dry it helps keep the soil cool and the biology alive and it gives that moisture time to work for the crop.
He says patience and the right tools will help your crop shine even in tough weather.
Crystal steers the conversation towards sustainability. “Dr. Dwayne Beck of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre always told us to stop and walk in nature and take a look, see what she was doing. If we can take what we learn from Mother Nature and apply it to our practices, then we can be more successful.Our crops and our grass need to be resilient and recover.
The Neuharths learned from Dr. Beck that the ultimate goal is to try to mimic the natural energy, water, nutrients and cycles and diversity of the native landscape.
Crystal adds that one of the most important strategies they have implemented is to embrace diversity.
“All our eggs are not in one basket,” she says. “We are diverse to reduce risk and try to capture the best that Mother Nature gives us for humidity and weather conditions.”
The children Neuharth, Johnathan, Justin and Kaydee are the engine that drives the farm forward.
Crystal shares her recollection of Johnathan returning home from a conference in North Dakota where he heard about a crisis involving songbirds. It was his recommendation to read Aldo Leopold’s book and find out what species of birds were already at the ranch.
“Sometimes we don’t see the big picture,” says Crystal. “Jonathan’s eyes were opened by attending different conferences, and it opened our eyes in different ways as well. It’s amazing to see our children passionate about the land and making a difference.
A dream the Neuharth boys have is to create a farm-to-table experience with tours to show people where their food is grown.
“It’s exciting for us to think that they’re thinking holistically about how to share the experience with others in this way,” Crystal smiles proudly.
Prairie Paradise Farms continues to change, and fast.
One lesson that caught Neuharth’s attention was one he learned at a conference: “If you don’t change something within the first seven to 10 days of thinking about it, you’re not going to change anything at all. .”
“We wanted to add chickens to the operation, so we came home and added chickens within the week. Our son had milk allergies so we added dairy goats. And now it has become a very lucrative dairy goat herd and children love to show them.
As recognized by the Leopold Conservation Award, the Neuharths are an example to others and hope to inspire other landowners to do more.
“I think the biggest misconception people have in agriculture and ranching is that soil health is too much work and so they don’t manage their pastures for soil health,” Neuharth says. . “They think it’s taking too long to go out there and put up a fence. But really, it’s rewarding work and it does so much good to the pastures that it’s worth it.
It sums. “A good day on the farm is being able to take the kids out, check the cows and be together. It’s great to have the family on the farm and see all the beauty of nature.
It’s about the future.
Cultivate the community
What sets the Neuharths apart is their focus on youth and community education.
Crystal explains, “When we looked for things for our kids to do outside of our farm, there really wasn’t anything out there except for a few 4-H programs. We wanted to create a place where families can come and share experiences together. We wanted them to learn how important the soil is in our lives and that farming is fun. And to show them what happens in a real agricultural environment. We wanted them to experience an agricultural setting in a regenerative way that focuses on wildlife habitat, healthy eating, and family preservation.
Three years ago, the Neuharths held a “Family Farm Day” and invited families to experience the farm. This prompted schools to visit and now the Neuharths run experiences in town with hands-on interactive learning for children.
“No matter what your occupation, you need healthy soil and healthy food to have a healthy family,” says Crystal. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have their children want to do what we do. For the kids to work hard and see the reward that comes with it and really understand it, well, we’re very lucky.