Growing up, Jim Linne worked in his parents’ pastry shop. He then became a gastroenterologist.
But it was his love of nature and conservation that led him to a master gardening class, where he became fascinated by the complexity of soil. “As I studied that more and more, I came to understand that our soils in the United States are in pretty bad condition, primarily due to agricultural practices,” Linne says.
He also noticed the decline in small family farms. “I became motivated to preserve small family farms and to improve the soil,” he adds.
So, in 2005, Linne, who lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Sheryl, bought a small cow-calf operation on 300 acres primarily being farmed with corn and soybeans 50 miles away in Hillsboro, Ohio. It was the beginning of White Clover Farm.
Now serving a dual role as a doctor and a farmer, Linne says he needed to get some expert advice and went to the Highland County Soil and Water Conservation District office.
“I didn't know this when I bought the farm, but it has silt loam soils with about 6% to 12% grades,” he explains. “I have no flat ground anywhere on the farm. It's all gentle slopes, and then it gets steeper as it goes toward the wooded area. It's classified as highly erodible and should probably never be tilled.”
With that information, a series of conservation-minded practices started to be put into play. Today, Linne is multi-paddock adaptive-grazing 100 cows and, with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has developed a management plan and implemented several practices to enrich the soil by capturing nutrients, reducing erosion, improving water quality, and providing additional habitat for wildlife.
Three years ago, Linne, 69, permanently traded in his white coat and loafers for a Carhartt jacket and galoshes. His focus is now on the farm, although he admits it’s gotten easier to manage with conservation practices in place and a system that embraces nature.
Recognizing the entirety of his work, he has been named a 2021 Ohio Conservation Farm Family Award winner.
“Jim Linne is a well-respected innovative producer in the agricultural industry and provides an outstanding example of how to incorporate conservation practices into his operation that will protect our natural resources,” says his nominator, Pam Bushelman, district operations manager, Highland County SWCD.
Transitioning the farm from row crops to permanent grasslands, pastures and hayfields took some time, but Linne says he got great help.
“The technicians at the Highland County SWCD helped me with the EQIP [Environmental Quality Incentives Program] program, which can help with highly erodible soils by cost-sharing some of the practices, including fencing, water development and some plantings,” he says.
He chose to pursue regenerative ag to improve the soils, but also because he wasn’t interested in investing in equipment. “I was still practicing medicine, so I really wanted to do what was right for the soil and not worry too much about cash flow at that point,” he says. “And because I don’t come from a farming background, I wasn't married to any ideas about farming.”
Linne didn’t know it when he bought the land that the property had five natural springs. Pipelines were installed to feed concrete water tanks that don't freeze.
The cattle have been fenced out of the woodlot to reduce degradation of plants and to protect timber within the wood. Nesting boxes were added throughout the woodlot and farm for bluebirds, tree swallows, purple marlins and more.
A large gully erosion has now been converted into a usable farm pond that has been fenced to keep cattle from trampling banks and stirring up sediment in the pond. It also serves as a buffer zone along the bank to absorb nutrients, while providing cover for wildlife.
“The pond now has willows all around it, as well as cattails and these great big, beautiful lotus flowers with the big lily pads,” Linne says. “It also brings in a ton of birds.”
Beyond rotational grazing
Linne uses multi-paddock adaptive grazing. “Unlike rotational grazing, which has the connotation that you're on a schedule, with adaptive grazing you look at the growth in each paddock and make decisions on how long you want to graze it — getting the optimum performance out of the forage,” he says.
Fields on the farm are divided into 2- to 3-acre paddocks using portable step-in posts and polybraid wire, and are grazed for only 24 to 48 hours and then rested for 35 to 40 days.
“It allows forages to be at the optimal stage of growth and totally recovered from the previous grazing,” Linne says. “Cattle performance is so good, they are able to gain about 2 pounds a day that’s needed to finish an animal.”
As forages become more mature and denser, they grow taller before a seed head is formed. “My grasses are close to 18 to 20 inches before they send out a seed head,” Linne says. “The key is getting your soil biology going.”
Linne does not use any herbicides and says he embraces weeds. “Weeds with deep tap roots are bringing minerals from the subsoil and the cattle, depending upon the stage of growth of those weeds, they love them. The more biodiversity, the better, and more resilient things seem to be in those pastures.”
After cattle are moved from a paddock, Linne spends a couple hours hand-pulling weeds the cattle left behind. “Those are the ones I know they don't like.”
The system is working for the cattle, but also for the soils — the average organic matter on the farm has gone from 1.5% to 4%. “That’s huge, and once you get that into motion, it just keeps getting better on its own,” Linne says.
Summer and winter annual cover crop mixtures, including at least six different species of grasses, legumes and forbs, are no-tilled into existing pastures to increase soil fertility.
Some pastures are not grazed in late summer and fall to allow for growth and strip-grazing during the winter. “I've got my hay-feeding days down to 60,” he says.
Part of his motivation for raising grass-fed red and black angus beef is rooted in his medical observations that 85% of all diseases are diet and lifestyle related, he says. “It became clear to me, the way to deal with that is in prevention and not treatment, and prevention means better nutrition and lifestyle,” Linne says.
For the past four years, he’s been selling his 100% grass-fed beef locally with internet sales by the quarter, half or whole. “We're completely sold out for the season before we slaughter the first animal,” he says.
While not a conservation practice, Linne’s commitment to the land is underlined by his work with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to place an agricultural easement on the entire farm through the Cardinal Land Conservancy.
The Linne family
Family: Jim and Sheryl Linne own White Clover Farms in Hillsboro, Ohio. They have two daughters, Courtney, who is in medical school, and Caroline, who is a public relations specialist with Motley Fool Investment Group in Washington, D.C.
Farm: White Clover Farm is 300 acres of pasture, woodland and hay.
Nominated by: Pam Bushelman, Highland County SWCD district operations manager.
Outreach and education: Jim Linne has hosted tours sponsored by Farm Bureau and was part of an Ohio group of farmers that met with Congressman Dennis Kucinich during the 2017 Acres USA conference to discuss agricultural concerns. He has donated beef to the Cincinnati and Hillsboro Free Foodbank.
Community leadership: He was named Highland County SWCD Cooperator of the Year in 2016. He is a board member at Agraria, a 126-acre farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Agraria promotes resilient communities through regenerative practices.