SD Grassland Coalition

South Dakota Grassland Coalition Blog


Our Amazing Grasslands | Rittberger

The Our Amazing Grasslands video for August 2019 is live! Visit to learn more about this month’s producers in our Grasslands Planner.

Our Amazing Grasslands~ The Cammack Family

Our Amazing Grasslands Cammack

“We’ve planted thirty thousand trees and a hundred years from now the only evidence of Amy and I being here will be the trees and the kids and the wildlife…”
-Gary Cammack

watch here

In our sixth video release of 2019, we visit the Cammack Family ranch in Union Center, South Dakota. The Cammack received the Leopold Conservation Award in 2018. The SD Grassland Coalition partnered with the organizations listed below to enhance the grassland planner with a release of a short video story each month during 2019 promoting healthy soils, grasslands, and ecosystems. Please enjoy the Our Amazing Grasslands feature story for May 2019 featuring the Limpert Family.

2019 Grassland Stewardship Communications Project Partners: The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, South Dakota State University, Audubon Dakota, Ducks Unlimited, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, SD Game, Fish and Parks, SD Soil Health Coalition, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and SD Grassland Coalition.

USDA is an Equal Opportunity Provider, Employer and Lender.

Governor Kristi Noem Announces Leopold Conservation Award Winner

April 22, 2019
Noem Contact: Kristin Wileman
SD Cattlemen Contact: Jodie Anderson
SD Grassland Coalition Contact: Jim Faulstich
Sand County Foundation Contact: Casey Langan


Noem Announces Leopold Conservation Award Winner

Award recognizes landowners for outstanding stewardship

PIERRE, S.D. –  In conjunction with Earth Day, Governor Kristi Noem today announced that Johnson Farms of Frankfort has been selected for the 2019 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist, Aldo Leopold, this award recognizes private landowners who inspire others with their dedication to the land, water, and wildlife resources in their care.

In South Dakota, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. Johnson Farms will be presented with the $10,000 award, and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold at the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in December.

“Farmers and ranchers across South Dakota know how to balance agriculture production with conservation,” said Noem. “The intentional innovation, stewardship, and land ethic of the Johnsons and other producers ensures that our natural resources will be available for future generations.”

“The Johnsons are demonstrating how crops and cattle can work together to support their multiple-generation family farm while improving their natural resources and the bottom line,” said Steve Ollerich, president of South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association. “We congratulate them as our 2019 Leopold Conservation Award recipients and applaud their conservation ethic.”

“The Johnson’s focus on conservation, while managing multiple enterprises on their family farm, is commendable and we congratulate them on receiving the 2019 South Dakota Conservation Award,” said Jim Faulstitch, chairman of the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. “We look forward to continuing to highlight their conservation story throughout the year.”

“Leopold Conservation Award recipients are at the forefront of a movement by America’s farmers and ranchers to simultaneously achieve economic and environmental success,” said Kevin McAleese, president and CEO of Sand County Foundation.

Finalists for the award included Bien Ranch of Veblen in Marshall County, Blair Brothers Angus Ranch of Vale in Butte County, and Hefner Ranch of Whitewood in Lawrence County.

Award applicants were judged based on their demonstration of improved resource conditions, innovation, long-term commitment to stewardship, sustained economic viability, community and civic leadership, and multiple use benefits.

About the winner:

Alan and Mickie Johnson, with their son Brian and his wife Jamie, farm 1,800 acres of cropland and 500 acres of grassland in Spink County. Agricultural conservation practices and raising cattle make the Johnsons more efficient without buying more land.

The farm’s roots trace back to 160 acres that Johnson’s Swedish immigrant grandfather homesteaded more than a century ago. The Johnsons use a mix of old school practices and modern technology to leave the land in better shape for the next generation.

Alan Johnson adopted no-till farming practices in 1986 when abandoning the plow, disk and cultivator was much against the norm. Despite what the neighbors thought, Alan saw that tilling a field to rid it of weeds was also depleting it of moisture. By mid-summer, if rain was scarce, crops suffered.

By coupling no-till practices with cover crops, the Johnsons have improved water infiltration and soil health, increasing productivity.

The Johnsons also find that a diverse rotation of their corn, soybean, wheat, oat, and barley crops, and leaving crop residue in place, minimizes agricultural runoff, naturally eases pest management, and provides wildlife habitat. To further address soil erosion and salinity problems, the Johnsons enrolled land in the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program.

Realizing that different areas of each field have varying productivity, the Johnsons switched to a variable-rate fertilizer system in 2004. Applying the precise amount of nutrients on the soil saves time and natural resources, and delivers a better return on investment. Since the switch, the Johnsons have won a yield contest held by the South Dakota Soybean Association.

The Johnsons also raise a herd of Angus beef cattle. Whenever possible, the herd is allowed to graze on mature cover crops and corn stubble, creating a cooperative relationship between the cattle and the land. The cover crops provide feed, and the cattle naturally fertilize the soil with their waste.

Grazing used to mean turning the cattle out to pasture for the summer and bringing them home in the fall. It was easy, but it took a toll on the quality and variety of the grass. The Johnsons now rotationally graze their cattle and closely monitor grazing conditions and the timing of their calving season.

While the longtime crop farmers admit that managing grass and cattle requires additional time, the results are healthier land and a stronger bottom line.

For more information on the award, visit


Our Amazing Grasslands ~ Schmidt Family

“We are grazers. We are grass managers. We are used solar salesmen. We use sunlight and rain and grass, that’s what makes our living.”
-Stuart Schmidt


Check out April’s Our Amazing Grasslands Producers!

Linda Gilbert: Managing Grass with Cattle, a Little Water, and Plenty of Good Ideas by Kate Rasmussen

Linda Gilbert, the most recent addition to the South Dakota Grassland Coalition’s board of directors, isn’t new to the cattle industry. Linda was raised alongside cattle and horses in western South Dakota. She inherited the land ethic of her father Ken Halligan, a lifelong cattlemen and land steward. A veteran of the cattle industry and advocate for her heritage, Linda was appointed by Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to serve on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board in 2010. Linda has also served
for a number of years on the National Board of Beef Council and Public Lands Committee.

Linda and her husband, Ray, run a cow-calf operation outside of Buffalo, SD. The two work around an arid, practically high desert climate averaging only ten to twelve inches of rainfall per year. This dry country requires a delicate balance between running a profitable cattle business and careful land management. Like many of the SDGC board members, the tough economic climate of the 80’s pushed Ray and Linda to make drastic changes in their management style. They did plenty of research and landed on a rotational grazing system they thought might work on their ranch. They added around twenty miles of electric cross fencing and increased their stocking rate by three fold. The two were able to take in yearlings and run a herd of sheep to supplement the cattle business. Linda found these changes helped their business and also matched the “take care of the land, it will take care of you” philosophy of her father. After about three years, Ray and Linda started seeing the land change as a result of their grazing system. Places on the ranch that were historically hardpan began growing feed. Perennial native grasses began gaining a competitive advantage over invasive species they had around for years like prairie sand reed. “Since we started rotational grazing, we’ve never sold cattle because of drought,” Linda said as she listed the unexpected positive results of their grazing system. It’s taken plenty of time to work the kinks out through trial and error, “we’re still tweaking things each year. There are so many different methods of rotating. You just have to figure out what works on your place,” she said, “find what works in your area and have an open mind. Be ready for change and be an observer. If you truly want to improve, watch your cattle and watch what your grass is doing.” When I asked the two if they had any advice for folks who are beginning their own ranch or thinking about changing an existing model Linda said, “Be ready to learn, observe, and adapt.” Ray and Linda discovered that there are many elements of a grazing system that vary from place to place, but one rule they live by is to always start in a new pasture. Each spring they always start their rotation on a different pasture rather than grazing the same plants at the same time every year. Practicing this year after year has allowed desirable native grasses to thrive. They’re also sold on fence line weaning. Ray and Linda both shook their heads, wishing they had done it years before: “The cattle are less stressed, they don’t get sick, and there’s really no shrink,” Ray said.

Thinking back over the years, Ray added that he wishes they had taken more pictures of the progress they’ve made in their pastures over time. “I wish we would have done more grass monitoring and kept track of the data,” Ray said. He also recommends doing thorough research on electric fence material. As a new member of the quickly growing organization, Linda is excited about the work the Coalition does for South Dakota land managers. She looks forward to being a part of the Coalition as it expands in the state. She believes that the organization “is a great opportunity for producers to learn from other producers. The coalition does a great job of sharing research.” The Gilbert Ranch arrived where it is today by sifting through research, picking out the good ideas, and adapting them to their ranch through trial and error. The Coalition helps producers speed up this process and offers educational support for people looking to improve their land while getting the most out
of it.

Ray and Linda agreed that if they could change anything about the way they did things in the early years of their ranch they would have gotten out more. “One of our biggest mistakes as young ranchers was that we worked all the time and never left the place. Talking to other producers and learning about different ways of doing things would have helped us a lot,” Linda said, “Networking is really important and it’s something the Coalition does well.”

Kate Rasmussen is a freelance writer and ranch hand based near Belvidere, SD.

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SD Grassland Coalition
221 N. Main
Box 401
Presho, SD 57568

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