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Regenerative agriculture

By Staff | Mar 6, 2009

Seed stock producer Steve Reinart prepares bulls to go to the Pharo Cattle Co. in Cheyenne Wells, Colo., where they are forage-tested.

LANESBORO – As Steve Reinart surveys his pastures in northeast Carroll County near the Raccoon River, he explains why his view of farming goes beyond the description of sustainable agriculture.

“It should be called regenerative agriculture,” said Reinart, the latest recipient of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Spencer Award. “To me, sustainable is doing no additional harm, while regenerative improves the soil and ecosystem.”

After Reinart took over the family farm in 1973, he adopted a holistic style of management and steadily converted his cropland into grass. He also added shelter belts, windbreaks, native grass plantings, and a paddock grazing system to his 400-acre farm, which is certified organic.

Today, Reinart’s Prairie Reds includes a beef and seed stock operation with more than 100 animals.

“I take my lead from nature as I try to incorporate a new conservation practice on my land each year,” said Reinart, who has lived on his family’s Carroll County farm since 1954 and planted a new windbreak with spruce trees, cedar trees and hackberry trees in 2008. “Farming is less stressful if you work with nature instead of trying to fight it.”

Steve Reinart, who has farmed since 1973, focuses on regenerative agriculture and tries to add new conservation practices each year on his property near the Raccoon River in Carroll County.

Supporting grassland agriculture

Reinart is the fifth Iowa farmer to receive the Spencer Award, established in 2002 to honor farmers, educators or researchers who have made a significant contribution toward the stability of mainstream family farms in the state. The award includes a $1,000 stipend and is one of Iowa’s largest awards in sustainable agriculture.

“I have known Steve for many years and he always has been willing to share what he has learned with other producers,” said Jerry DeWitt, director of the Leopold Center, located at Iowa State University. “He is an innovative and passionate advocate for grassland agriculture, and shows that it is possible to manage the land for future generations while operating a successful business.”

In an area dominated by corn and soybean fields, Reinart’s expanses of warm- and cool-season grasses have broken the mold for years. In 1975, Reinart began planting switchgrass on his lighter ground, thanks to a cost-share program available through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Soon, pheasants and other wildlife began returning to the area, and Reinart was hooked. “Today, my operation is all beef and all grass,” said Reinart, an avid outdoorsman whose land is covered with big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, side oats gamma, wild rye, cord grass and more.

Currently, Reinart is evaluating “mob grazing,” where a high number of cattle graze on a small space and eat down the grass fairly quickly before being moved to another area to graze.

The practice imitates the large herds of buffalo that once roamed the Midwest and grazed an area intensively before moving on. Mob grazing also allows a longer rest period for the pasture. “Less disturbance to the land helps tremendously with weed control, because the grass can thicken up and out-compete the weeds,” said Reinart, an innovative thinker and devoted reader of the “Stockman Grass Farmer” and “ACRES U.S.A.,” which covers commercial-scale organic and sustainable farming.

Leading the way

As a seed stock producer, Reinart prepares bulls each year to go to Pharo Cattle Co. in Cheyenne Wells, Colo., where they will be forage-tested. “Bulls that aren’t in a feedlot enjoy greater longevity,” said Reinart, who noted that ultrasound is used to test the bulls for ribeye shape, tenderness and backfat.

Reinart, who doesn’t routinely use antibiotics in his herd and avoids hormones, also sells some of his cattle to the Tallgrass Beef Co. in Sedan, Kan. Closer to home, Reinart’s grass-fed beef is processed at Mike’s Locker in Carroll. Through word-of-mouth advertising, Reinart sells the beef by the quarter or half to local buyers.

Buyers appreciate the benefits of grass-fed beef, including the recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats, and high levels of conjugated linoleic acid, a “healthy fat.”

“I’m selling a healthy product, and that reflects my philosophy of farming,” Reinart said. “For anything to be sustainable, you need to make money, stay environmentally acceptable and become socially acceptable.”

Reinart has long been willing to share his expertise with others. He spent 19 years on the Carroll County Conservation Board, served 25 years on the Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District, and was honored the Ruth Wagner Award as the state’s outstanding assistant commissioner in 2006.

More recently, Reinart has helped the conservation board acquire property and create Reinart’s River Bend conservation area along the North Raccoon River south of Lanesboro.

In addition, Reinart also serves on the boards of directors for the Iowa Forage and Grassland Council and M&M Divide RC&D, and has worked on efforts to establish a community market in Carroll.

He is also proud to be a long-time member of Practical Farmers of Iowa.

“I’ve always questioned things, and I’m glad that people are realizing that there’s another way of farming beyond monoculture. I encourage others to avoid tunnel vision, stop looking at the things they don’t want, and focus on the positive things they do want.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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