Leopold Conservation Award Program - North Dakota 2017

North Dakota 2017 Miller Ranch Fort Rice, ND Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

When Ken Miller took over the family ranch in the 80s, he knew the management practices he was taught growing up would need to evolve if he expected to pass on the family ranch legacy onto his children. In 1984, Ken and his wife Bonnie received a sponsorship to attend a holistic resource management school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There they began to realize that their current management had little reasoning behind it besides the fact that it was “the way things were done”.

Armed with new approaches to ranch management, the Millers began cross-fencing to turn their three pastures into eighteen to allow more recovery time between grazing. The Millers soon moved the calving date to later in the spring, and they eventually transitioned to completely no-till on their cropland while adding more diversity to their crop rotation. Each new management practice was done with one big goal in mind – to mimic and work with nature.   

Today Miller Ranch is still a work in progress; the Millers continue to strive for improvements on their thriving land. The ranch now contains over 60 paddocks on tame and native grasslands, with 18 additional paddocks under a center pivot irrigation system. Their management techniques have allowed them to leave more grass at the end of the grazing season than before, and they have increased carrying capacity of the ranch threefold. 

The Millers strongly believe that soil makes up the foundation for everything they can accomplish in agriculture. In Ken’s words, “it’s the herd under the ground that we need to be managing”. As the family began focusing on building up the soil biology, the plants became healthier and resilient, giving their cattle more nutrition, which in turn produced healthier cattle.

Ken is a leader in his community and is keen to share what he has learned with people all over the world. He’s traveled to places as far flung as Australia to talk about what agriculture can achieve using conservation and improving soil health. As a founding member of the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, Ken and his family are especially eager to share their story with fellow North Dakota ranchers, regularly inviting people to their land to learn about their practices. 

“The Millers value health of the entire ecosystem. They believe healthy soils form the foundation of health for all other items built upon it: plants, animals and humans. Their management goes well beyond conservation, extending far into the realm of a healthier whole systems approach that provides multiple layers of benefits for every level of the soil-plant-animal-human complex.” – Joshua Dukart, Rancher and Certified Educator of Holistic Management.

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