Aldo Leopold wrote, “Prairie was, in fact, a community of wild animals and plants so organized, as to build, through the centuries, the rich soil which now feeds us.”
Levi and Crystal Neuharth connect with this quote, as they sustainably manage cropland and grassland at Prairie Paradise Farms.
The Neuharths’ land ethic stems from Levi’s father, David, a self-described “kid from the city.” David developed a love for agriculture by working on farms in his youth. After buying his own farm, he met Dr. Dwayne and Ruth Beck, who taught him the importance of soil structure and conservation practices. He soon found himself all-in on improving soil health by adopting no-till practices. He boldly sold all of his tillage equipment, invested in a no-till drill, and established crop rotations. In the years since, the Neuharths have noticed regenerative practices help lessen the risks of volatile markets and weather.
Levi and Crystal took over management of Prairie Paradise Farms in 2016. Levi is a founding member and current chairman of the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, so they make decisions based on the five principles of soil health: 1. Keep the soil covered. 2. Disturb as little as possible. 3. Keep living roots growing as much as possible. 4. Include diversity in plant communities. 5. Integrate livestock.
The crop residue left behind from no-till practices provides a protective armor for the soil, which creates habitat for soil organisms, prevents erosion and evaporation, and keeps the soil cool on hot days. Crop rotations on 2,500 acres of farmland help break the cycle of disease, pests and weeds. A diverse rotation of crops allows them to capture different markets and spread out the risk from weather events. The Neuharths grow spring and winter wheat, milo, peas, teff, oats, millet, sunflowers, flax, garbanzo beans, lentils, corn, hay barley, as well as cover crops.
The Neuharths raise diverse livestock as well. What began as a source of milk for one of their children with allergies, is now a herd of 100 dairy goats. In addition to 4-H projects for their three children (Johnathon, Justin, and Kaydee), the goats are an important and beneficial enterprise for the farm.
Goats prefer forbs over grasses, including undesirable weeds like Canadian Thistle. When a goat eats a plant the seeds it passes through its digestive tract becomes sterile not allowing it to regrow. Their goats are grazed around water sources and weedy areas to help control pests without using chemicals. Likewise, a free-range flock of 150 laying hens help with insect control and provide an additional source of income.
Although the Neuharths have been rotationally grazing their 3,000 acres of grasslands since 2010, they do not own any cattle. Their custom grazing business provides daily monitoring and frequent rotations to fresh pastures for other people’s beef cattle.
Profiles in Soil Health - Courtesy of South Dakota Soil Health Coalition
Active in a variety of agricultural and community organizations, Prairie Paradise Farms hosts a Family Day in May where visitors partake in hands-on educational stations on topics such as livestock, insects, germinating seeds, soil layers, and grain identification.
With assistance from the USDA-NRCS and their local conservation district, the Neuharths have planted nearly 20 miles of trees to create wildlife habitat.
It's clear this is one farm that is living up to its name.