Rangeland health, soil health and the economic health of ranchers are one and the same, not mutually exclusive. That’s what James Halverson, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, has learned. Halverson also happens to be a passionate rancher, grazing cattle in the northern foothills of the Black Hills.
Halverson explains his journey from cropland to rangeland — and why he enjoys being a rangeland evangelist. “I feel that rangeland is like a red-headed stepchild that isn’t getting near the attention compared to cropland when it comes to the regenerative agriculture movement.”
He shares that many principles of soil health can be applied to rangeland management, and that stocking rates and production can be increased while also increasing the ecological function and farmer’s bottom line.
While studying for his graduate degree at Colorado State University, Halverson’s adviser shared with him the importance of being open-minded and a forward thinker.
“We try to graze different pastures as short of time as we can, depending on where we can haul water. I’m a big believer in grazing pastures hard, but then giving pastures a good rest, giving them a season to recover.”
As a first-time rancher, Halvorson says they were lucky to move into the middle of an older couple’s ranch in the northern foothills of the Black Hills, and that they received no pressure to run their ranch the way they had.
“Especially as we adopted soil health practices to regenerate degraded cropland, you can learn so much by observing the ground, watching how and what species the cows eat — really learning from the landscape and going far beyond just checking the cows,” Halverson says.
And that translates to a better product for consumers, he believes. “Raising really good-tasting beef starts with healthy soil, diversity on the rangeland and figuring out how to get cattle to eat it,” Halverson says. “I try to emulate and learn from people like Dr. Fred Provenza, Gabe Brown, Ray Archuleta and others who are on the ground and want to help producers.”
Halverson subscribes to the slogan “Remember the R’s — rotate, rest and recover” that several South Dakota organizations are promoting to develop resilience on grasslands. He says he’s seen first-hand the value of rest, which has contributed to the growth of his pastures.
“Diversity in rangeland helps the soil, and cattle figure out how to flourish as well,” Halverson says. He shares that they’re fortunate to have a local seed company that developed a mix of 12 to 15 species of cool-and warm-season grasses, brassicas, alfalfa, sainfoin, tannins and others to meet their production goals.
Lawton writes from Eden Prairie, Minn.