When Dick Cates’ father purchased the family’s Iowa County farm in the 1960s, it consisted of a few small tilled fields and largely unmanaged pastures.
Dick and his wife, Kim, turned it into an example of farming in a manner that is good for business and the land. Cates Family Farm is a grass-fed beef enterprise that included 700 acres of managed grazing land and 200 acres of managed forest. They direct-marketed their pasture-raised steers to grocery stores, restaurants, cafeterias and households around southern Wisconsin and Chicago.
Cates Family Farm
Since 1987, they worked to make the farm environmentally sound and profitable. They adopted rotational grazing practices and created a managed grazing system, added subdivision fencing and created stream crossings for livestock. They encourage the revitalization of a native oak savanna and care for Lowery Creek, a Class 2 trout stream that runs through their pastures. The stream supports healthy populations of brown, brook and rainbow trout.
Dick’s passion for land conservation and environmental improvement led to his involvement in planning the first Wisconsin grazing workshop in 1990. It grew into the state grazing conference, one of the premier grazing events in the Midwest.
Dick was a senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Soil Science. He also served as the director of the UW Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, and the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy & Livestock Farmers, where he has mentored students for 20 years.
“For me, conservation became not just a set of constraints, but a very positive part of my life that involved skill and learning to understand what the land could handle,” he said. “So I encourage the young farmers I’ve been training to look at that piece of land as your portrait and a statement of yourself, and try to understand how you and the land together as partners can do better. And that’s an uplifting way to farm. I think all of us want to do that, it’s a process of finding our way.”
"Dick and Kim love and respect the land and have this community sense about them,” said UW Extension Grazing Specialist Rhonda Gildersleeve. “They have found the middle ground where a profitable farming system can co-exist with excellent conservation and positive environmental impacts.”