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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Management Strategies to Sustainably Intensify Northern Great Plains Agroecosystems

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: Profitable prairie restoration: The EcoSun Prairie Farm experiment

Authors
item Zilverberg, Cody -
item Johnson, W -
item Archer, David
item Kronberg, Scott
item Schumacher, Thomas -
item Boe, Arvid -
item Novotny, Craig -

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 2, 2014
Publication Date: January 2, 2014
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/58423
Citation: Zilverberg, C.J., Johnson, W.C., Archer, D.W., Kronberg, S.L., Schumacher, T., Boe, A., Novotny, C. 2014. Profitable prairie restoration: The EcoSun Prairie Farm experiment. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 69:22A-25A.

Interpretive Summary: Concerns about ongoing conversion of grassland to cropland in the northern Great Plains, and effects on wildlife, and soil and water quality led a South Dakota group to search for agricultural practices that would balance environmental concerns with farm economics. EcoSun Prairie Farm, an experimental working farm was established to see if converting cropland to native tallgrass prairie could improve the environment and provide sufficient income to support a farm family through sale of grassland products. Restoration efforts began in 2008, and by year five, the farm was generating revenue from many different sources, including seed harvested from grass, wetland forbs and grasslike species, summer hay, autumn hay, contract grazing, and beef. Farm revenue increased every year as more land came into production and marketing skills improved. In 2012, net income for a landowner who provided his own labor was $60,000 on 546 acres. Improvement in wildlife habitat and water quality occurred rapidly, with many native plant and animal species increasing in abundance on the farm, and reduced soil erosion during high intensity spring rainfall events. Information from the farm will be useful to farmers, conservationists, and others interested in grassland farming.

Technical Abstract: Concerns about ongoing conversion of grassland to cropland in the northern Great Plains, and effects on wildlife populations, and soil and water quality prompted a South Dakota group to search for agricultural practices that would balance environmental concerns with farm economics. EcoSun Prairie Farm, an experimental working farm was established to see if converting cropland to native tallgrass prairie could simultaneously improve the environment and provide sufficient income to support a farm family through sale of grassland products. Maintaining diversity of plant species is essential to EcoSun’s conservation goals, the organization has been intentional about cultivating a variety of income streams. Restoration efforts began in 2008, and by year five, the farm was generating revenue from many different sources, including seed harvested from three grass species planted in monocultures, a variety of wetland forbs and grasslike species, summer hay, autumn hay, contract grazing, and beef. Farm revenue increased every year as more land came into production and marketing skills improved. Net income for a landowner who provided his own labor was $60,000 on 221 ha in 2012. Improvement in wildlife habitat and water quality occurred rapidly, with many native plant and animal species increasing in abundance on the farm, and reduced rill erosion during high intensity spring rainfall events on restored grassland compared to neighboring corn and soybean fields. Ecosun is looking at ways to provide information and land management recommendations to others interested in replicating grassland farming.

Last Modified: 10/21/2014
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