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Mother and son speak at international grassland conservation conference

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Mother and son speak at international grassland conservation conference

Award-winning Johnathon Neuharth speaks of the five principles of soil health and the importance of plant and animal diversity on grasslands. Ask him about the “whitey tighty” test to look at soil health.

Crystal Neuharth and her son, Johnathon, attended the fifth biennial America’s Grasslands Conference Aug. 20-22 in Bismarck, N.D.

First held in Sioux Falls in 2011, the conference has since been hosted in Kansas, Colorado and Texas. The 2019 conference strived to create strong and effective partnerships for grassland conservation. The conference looked for a range of speakers. The Neuharth duo applied, were accepted and an invitation was sent to them. The conference paid for transportation, lodging and their conference registrations.

“This year’s conference was ‘Working Across Boundaries,’ not just boundaries of countries but between different entities,” said Crystal Neuharth, “ such as Game, Fish and Parks; Fish and Wildlife; National Wildlife Federation; South Dakota Grassland Coalition and many others. Everyone is trying to keep the grasslands for the pollinators, birds, deer and producers.”

“We’ve not been to this conference before, but every time we go to a conference we bring back something to share. Things are changing, and people learn how to get it to work for you,” said Chrystal Neuharth.

Together, the Neuharths presented “Grasslands- Bringing Family Together.”

“Grasslands have always brought our family closer together,” said Crystal Neuharth. “Teaching our children how to respect and appreciate our land everyday is a top priority. The first key to their farm business is Family is Number One. Your family is the best team you could ever have.”

The Neuharth family, headed by Levi and Crystal, does the majority of their management with all three kids: Johnathon (11), Justin (8) and Kaydee (3). The parents feel experience is the best teacher. Johnathan truly enjoys the farm life and presenting to audiences. He has been taught, “Until you experience things, you don’t understand the importance that comes from behind being a farmer,” said Crystal Neuharth. Johnathan has won the Western Junior Talk livestock show in Rapid City and won with his presentation at the Consumer Science Show last Oct. 8-12. In addition, his presentation won at Range Land Days in Redfield last June 18-19.

Crystal quotes the author Thomas Berry, “Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.”

In fact, the Neuharth family started an annual “Family Farm Visit Day” last year which will be continued on the first Saturday of each May. The young visitors and their chaperones come to the Neuharth spread — the Prairie Paradise Farms — near Hayes. The day is designed to help provide a wide variety of farm experiences for all kids.

Neuharth added, “If we don’t make it a priority to provide this experience and knowledge, they won’t feel it is as big of a priority as it really is. Without our natural world, soil, plants, animals, etc. there would be no life.”

Johnathon, in particular, enjoys speaking about the importance and value of soil. This year he spoke at the 4-H Public Presentations at county and state level, to the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition and will again speak at the Western Junior Livestock Show this coming October. His favorite part about speaking at the conference in Bismarck was all the food, meeting people and building relationships from people across the United States, Canada and Mexico, and learning new ideas to bring back home and try.

During the Producer Prospective portion of the conference, “We learned what they in their world — on their farm — do to keep their grasslands healthy. Different spots told what is working and not working for them. Our Farm Bill is to help the whole country, not just a place like Texas or other state. Everybody is a whole,” said Crystal Neuharth.

The Neuharth ranch management decisions are based on following the five Principles of Soil Health, no matter if its grass or cropland.

Minimal Soil Disturbance — “We have done No-Till farming for 26 years. Not breaking the land provides a home for all the organisms in the soil, so they don’t use more time rebuilding their home rather than improving the soil,” said Crystal Neuharth.

Diversity — “We’ve been doing crop rotations — crop diversity — for about 26 years as well. We plant different crops depending on what the soil needs. Over about six-to-seven years we harvest warm-season grasses (corn, millet, milo and others), cool season grasses (wheat, oats, barley, etc.), warm season broad-leaves (sunflowers soybeans, etc.) and cool season broadleaves (cover crops such as lentils and peas). When we can’t catch a season just right, we do a cover crop; a mixture of all the above,” said Crystal Neuharth. “When the plants are baled and shipped off, then it doesn’t replenish the soil.”

Integrate Livestock — “We have six pastures, and we have broken them down further for rotational grazing. Cattle can’t stick in their favorite spots. About every seven to 10 days we rotate them, with each smaller field being a bit different in size and cover yield,” said Neuharth.

Living Roots as much as possible — cover crops help photosynthesis, keeping the soil active and not letting it go dormant.

Keep Soil Covered — “This helps prevent erosion, prevents evaporation, keeps the soil cool on hot days and provides habitat for organisms in the soil. It is also good for wildlife,” said Neuharth.