Stoney Creek Farm - Redwood Falls, Minnesota
Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz manage Stoney Creek Farm near Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Grant grew up on the home farm and worked side-by-side with his dad and brothers all during his childhood. Karl and Deanna, Grant’s parents, quit farming in 1997 and sold the cow herd to Grant and Dawn. Karl and Deanna are still living on the farm and Karl now helps with production, primarily with the grain operation. Grant and Dawn’s daughter, Karlie, and her husband, Cody Wellnitz, are also involved with the farm, with Cody working full-time on the farm. Karlie and Cody have four daughters under the age of eight.
Dawn grew up in Redwood Falls and was a “town girl.” After graduating from high school, she joined the U.S. Air Force and traveled the world for 15 years as part of her service. Previously married to an Air Force sergeant, Dawn served as a communications analyst, working largely under the umbrella of the National Security Agency. She spent her active-duty time stationed in the Philippines and also served in the Air Force Reserves for about ten years. She acknowledges that her military service was good for her, saying, “I loved the military. I loved the organization. I needed that.”
Dawn and Grant Breitkreutz on their farm near Redwood Falls, Minnesota
When Dawn met Grant through mutual friends, she quickly recognized his passion for farming, saying “He's just one of those people with farming in their genetic make-up.” As they started dating, Dawn helped on the farm every chance she got, mostly fixing fences or moving cows, and it didn’t take long for her to really fall in love with the land and especially with the cows. Grant jokes that Dawn didn’t even know how to run a riding lawn mower when they met. Dawn agrees and says that by sitting next to him, she learned how to run all the machinery and implements on the farm. “She runs absolutely everything on the farm except for the sprayer,” Grant says.
The couple now manages a total of 1,677 acres. Of that, 955 acres are in row crops, 677 acres in pastures, and 45 acres in alfalfa grass hay for winter feedstuff. They graze all their tillable land, except for 122 acres, which is land they have only been farming for two years and is not yet fenced. Most of the grazing in the fall and winter is crop residue, but they also inter-seed cover crops into cereal rye or other small grains for the cattle to graze after harvest.
Cattle Grazing Cover Crops
Grant and Dawn rent/lease their farmland, the terms of which range from 5-7 years. Grant stresses the importance of longer-term lease arrangements when putting in capital improvements and improving soil health after land has been conventionally managed for many years.
Stoney Creek Farm also has a beef cow-calf operation. Grant and Dawn bought the cow herd of 58 mama cows from Grant’s parents when they quit farming and now run 100 -120 cows. They background all their calves and sell most (60- 80%) as yearlings into the feeder cattle market. Depending on rainfall and the corresponding grass available, they may keep their calves another year for sale as bigger yearlings. The calves they retain are kept for replacements in the cow herd or to finish either with grain or grass.
Grant says about their predominately Red Angus herd, “We were extremely blessed. My father never followed any of the fads and trends in cattle. We took over a good herd of cows to start out with, and we've maintained a functional set of cows from those original bloodlines.”
Dawn’s goal for 2023, which she hopes will also be the farm goal, is to go to 100% grass-finished beef production. That means getting to the right breed composition and body type for their environment. “We're still a little out of balance, but we're getting closer every season,” she says.
In addition to the beef cattle enterprise, they also finish 30-40 hogs every year and purchase 10- 20 feeder pigs at a time from a neighboring farm. The hogs are heavy heritage breed hogs, primarily Berkshire crosses, run on pasture if it’s available to them, with supplemental feed. If not on pasture, the hogs are kept in large open lots, not in confinement. They market all the hogs they finish directly to consumers.
Pigs on Pasture at the Farm
Grant and Dawn have an egg enterprise with about 150 laying hens, depending on the year. They’ve now had layers for three seasons and the hens are out on pasture from early spring to early winter with a guard dog for protection. “Egg mobiles,” converted stock trailers equipped with nesting boxes, are used while the chickens are out on pasture. They had a solid market for their eggs but lost it when their buyer passed away. The buyer’s family did not want to continue his operation, leaving Grant and Dawn to market their eggs themselves.
Their broilers are raised on pasture primarily for their own consumption. “We're still kind of feeling out that market,” Dawn says. In 2022, they raised 120 broilers, purchasing three-week old chicks in the summer. Their landlord raises them in 10’x10’ enclosed, moveable pens on pasture until they are old enough to move to pasture where they are moved daily.
The cropping enterprises on Stoney Creek Farm vary year by year. They usually plant from 300 -400 acres of corn and soybeans each year, depending on the rotation. The rest of the tillable land is planted to small grains, primarily cereal rye. The market for cereal rye is particularly strong in their area because of the exploding popularity of cover crops among farmers, coupled with a severe drought in 2022.
They have also grown about 80 acres of yellow field peas for the past two seasons, which are sold into the food grade market. The soybeans that they raise are considered food grade and they have contracts with two different companies to market their soybeans: Grain Millers of Iowa; and Puris, which buys the peas and some of the soybeans.
The couple hasn’t used genetically modified seed (GM0) for a decade. They used to save their own soybean seed for the next season’s planting, but their current contracts stipulate that they purchase seed from the companies with which they have contracts. Finally, they plant 20-30 acres to a seven-grain mix, which is their feed source for their poultry and our pork. The seven-grain mix includes oats, wheat, barley, field peas, flax, fava beans, and lentils, which are all harvested together.
The Transition to Regenerative Agriculture
Grant says their transition to regenerative agriculture started with the cows. “We were passionate about the cows and learning and understanding how to manage them better,” he says. Grant focused on pasture improvement by learning better grazing management, not realizing that he was learning about soil health at the same time. The couple signed up for some NRCS contracts in the early 2000s to split paddocks, which doubled production promptly. Grant thought, “If we could do that once, maybe we could double it again.” He started studying grazing management through Holistic Management International. At that time, they were still a very small operation attempting to grow three crops in two years on the tillable land they were renting, mainly for cattle feed. As they implemented the grazing strategies, however, they observed positive changes on the pastureland. No-tilling some crops since 1998, the couple still didn't understand what was happening with their soil.
A diverse stand of warm season cover crops on the farm
Even as they saw positive changes in the pastures, they wondered why they weren't seeing any change in their cropland. Grant estimates their understanding about the lack of progress on the cropland was in 2007 or 2008 and that’s when they began focusing on changing their cropland in earnest. They still didn't fully understand the role of soil health until 2011 or 2012, but since then, they have been learning as much as they can and connected with Dr. Allen Williams of Understanding Ag, who they met at a convention, was pivotal. “Grant became a groupie,” Dawn says.
Their desire to learn more intensified, which led to them spending more time visiting with Burley County Soil Conservation District (SCD) personnel in North Dakota. They were conducting some excellent programs teaching about cropping and livestock management. The SCD is in legendary soil health pioneer Gabe Brown's home county, but they didn't know who Gabe was at the time. Grant said, “We met everybody in this [regenerative] world except Gabe, who we met about ten years ago. We met Jay Fuhrer, Kenny Miller, Josh Dukart, Ian Mitchell-Innis from South Africa, David Brandt, and the list goes on and on, before we met Gabe or Dr. Williams. We didn’t meet Ray Archuleta until five years ago when we first hosted a Soil Health Academy at our farm.”
Cattle grazing at sunset
Even as they were focused on improving pastures with grazing management, Grant and Dawn farmed the cropland conventionally. When the herbicide Roundup hit the market, Grant was among the first to climb on that bandwagon. They expected the product to eliminate the need weed-control cultivation in their small, crooked fields. They were “GMO-everything” for quite a while. “That snowballed on us badly, especially for the livestock,” Dawn says. “We started having a lot of livestock health issues and the promised yields weren't there.”
Because Stoney Creek Farm is set on marginal ground at best, things went downhill quickly and in 2010, the couple considered quitting farming altogether. because they weren't making any progress and their financial position continued to deteriorate. Farming just wasn't fun and every day was a drudgery with no possible way to bring on more outside work to try to make ends meet. They relied on custom work to make cash flow so they custom chopped silage and cut hay, among other activities. They went into a custom hay baling business with Grant’s brother and sister-in-law to try to boost their income, but that ended up setting them back timewise in the farming operation.
Grant said their financial struggles were a driving force behind the shift to regenerative production. Noting that financial challenges have always been a big part of farming, he says farmers can expect one good financial year in seven, but in the other six, they just hang on at best or perhaps go backward. Dawn and Grant were just getting tired of it. “I would rather sit in a dentist’s office than go to the banker,” she said. “That's how bad it got. I would cry every time we left there.”
“During that time is when God put the right people in our path,” Dawn says, “and now we're working ourselves out of all those negatives. Financially, we're doing a heck of a lot better.” The couple began to focus on shedding those things that they heaped on themselves when they were trying to make ends meet. While they did the best they could with what they knew at the time, Dawn says those extra activities merely kept them from “being intentional.” She credits Shane New, Understanding Ag, for helping them bring things into focus. ”We were spread too thin to actually be intentional about each and every enterprise. And that's what we're trying to buckle down on now and focus on,” she says.
Dawn recalled hearing stories about people starting their regenerative journey by making things work on small acreages, then expanding to more acres. Stoney Creek’s “Home Farm” is only about 400 acres, which is considered a hobby farm in their area. Dawn says early on she was always encouraging and nudging Grant to identify how much more land they would need to lease so she wouldn’t have to work in town, and so that they wouldn’t need to keep doing all these separate things, like the custom operations. That was one of the reasons why they started exploring a shift to regenerative agriculture. At that time, they limped along, renting other farms on and off, but now they have landlords approaching them, offering them land to farm, asking them to fix it.
Following the Combine with drilling in cover crops allows faster regenerative progress
The transition from conventional to regenerative production has been a long process for the couple but they say they really started making progress when they focused on the soil. Grant says he feels like they are finally understanding it and both agree that things have really turned around—and most days it's a lot of fun. “Some days when you're in business with family, things can get a little stressful,” Dawn says, “Our soil health family has grown extensively. It's just amazing. I love our soil health family. They're some of the most true and honest and upfront people that a person could ever meet and I'm blessed to be part of that community.”
With Shane’s, Gabe’s, and Ray’s encouragement and prodding, Grant set a goal in 2017 to get out of debt. Grant recalled the night Ray told him sternly, “Grant, you’ve got a problem. You have more iron than anybody I know.” Grant just laughed and replied, “Ray, 40% of the machinery is at home. You haven't even seen the rest of it!” Grant said Ray had a look of horror on his face. Ray and Gabe encouraged the couple to sell the machinery as an important step in retiring debt. Grant and Dawn were on track to be debt-free by 2021 or 2022, but a family member had health issues that temporarily sidetracked them. Nonetheless, they are close to achieving their goal and Grant estimates that they sold 27 pieces of equipment by mid-2022, with more to go.
For the last 12- 15 years Grant and Dawn have been focused on some level of regenerative practices. They are 100% no-till across all their acres and they verify with each landlord that they agree with the regenerative practices the Breitkreutz’ will use prior to signing leases.
The owner of the most recent farmland they’ve rented was skeptical about regenerative agriculture but their harvest in 2022 demonstrated that it is indeed working. While that landlord is seeing the light, Dawn says, “He's very set in his ways, so we have to tread very carefully in what we do.”
One of the practices that Grant and Dawn have implemented is planting green into standing cover crops. While this takes a good deal of knowledge and timing, it is a great way to lower the total number of field passes, lower input costs, suppress weeds and supply a slow release of fertility throughout the growing season.
Planting corn into cover crops. Planting Green
Grant and Dawn strive to abide by all six of the soil health principles in their overall operation. They do not use any fungicides or insecticides, including any type of seed treatment on corn, soybeans, etc. While they are 100% no-till and 100% non-GMO, they are not certified organic because they still use some chemicals. Their chemical use, which they try to keep to a minimum, includes Roundup, one application a year to terminate their cover crop, and a residual herbicide, like Dual, as needed for weed pressure in corn and soybeans. Herbicide usage and selection is one of their most challenging obstacles. Finding what works most efficiently, is cost-effective, and is the least harmful to the environment is a challenge. However, they agree that they would rather be able to use a chemical to rectify a problem than use tillage which is so much more detrimental to biological life and soil structure below the ground.
Open pollinated corn on the right compared to GM corn on the left
Key Points of Progress
A major point of progress on Stoney Creek Farm is a dramatic improvement in soil organic matter (SOM). On their home farm, they report taking the soils from SOM of 2.6% in 2007 to about 5.0% in 2022. Water infiltration rates, measured periodically by Kent Solberg and others, have also improved dramatically. Infiltration rates on crop lands have increased from less than 1” per hour to over 30” per hour, with a good average across the farm at 8-12” per hour.
Carrying capacity on most of their pastureland under long-term management has increased, able to support 3-4 times as many cattle as it did prior to the change to regenerative management. Grant does not have good stocking rate data to share on a consistent basis because they have changed their management practices in the last few years, but one pasture that they’ve been managing for 25 years previously carried 14-16 cow/calf pairs for the grazing season. Now that same pasture supports 40-45 pairs for the season. Additionally, Grant said that their vet-medicine costs have decreased by at least 90%.
Grant states that when they started farming in the late 1990’s he and Dawn were running 85 cow/calf pairs and calving out of sync with nature and their veterinary medical bills would often top $10,000 per year. They started implementing adaptive grazing practices and calving later in the spring and are now able to run 130-150 cow/calf pairs on the same acres with annual veterinary medical costs of under $3,000 (now primarily just vaccines and pregnancy testing). Dawn said that most of their livestock disease issues have disappeared due to improved soil health, a more highly diverse diet, and t regenerative grazing practices.
On the grain side of the operation, Grant reported the following:
- Reduced fertilizer and chemical use by 40-60% from our conventional farming days.
- Reduced fuel usage of 30-40%, depending on how much snow moving is needed.
- In 2019, cost of production for a bushel of corn was $2.59 compared to a neighbor’s cost of production of between $3.50 and $3.75/bushel.
In 2022, they experienced a drought. Grant said, “As dry as we were this year, our hilltops should have had no crop on them at all but there was grain all the way up over the hills everywhere.” One farm that they have leased for just one year has fields with high sand content and much of that farm lies along the Minnesota River. It flooded in the spring before turning dry in summer and they experienced crop failure on those fields, but the rest of the farm more than made up for that crop failure.
In 2021, Grant and Dawn planted non-GMO soybeans and were able to market them at a premium. The table below shows a comparison between the cost of production (COP), yield and breakeven between the Breitkreutz’s and their neighbor for their respective soybean crops. The neighbor planted a high-performance GMO soybean.
|2021 Soybean Comparison||Breitkreutz - Per Acre||Neighbor - Per Acre|
|Herbicide||$28.00 - $44.00||$55.00 - $70.00|
|Cover Crop (seed + planting)||$35.00||$0.00|
|Yield||55 bu/ac||60 bu/ac|
|Cost Per Bushel||$9.53||$11.43|
NOTE: These figures do not include the economic value of grazing the cover crop with the cattle prior to planting the soybean crop.
Grant and Dawn did not have any tillage costs since they no-till drilled all their soybeans and their cost for herbicide was lower than their non-GMO soybean-planting neighbor. They had no cost for insecticides, spent less on seed per acre, but did spend money on cover crop seed (an expense their neighbor did not have). Land rental costs were the same.
Grant and Dawn yielded five bushels/acre less than their neighbor, but due to lower input costs and a $2.36/bu premium for the non-GMO soybeans, they had a breakeven price of $9.53/bu compared to a breakeven of $11.43/bu for their neighbor.
Over the past two years, Grant and Dawn’s use of non-GMO soybeans, coupled with buyers awareness of the improved soil health and its impact on soybean quality, has allowed for contracts that pay them $3.50/bushel over the Chicago Board of Trade, plus a $0.40 - $0.60 basis. This results in a $4.00-plus premium per bushel today compared to previously, and their buyers are now wanting to contract 100% of their soybean acres on an annual basis.
It can sometimes be difficult to put an exact dollar value on the myriad other benefits with a regenerative system. For example, if the Breitkreutz’ experience a prolonged winter and native pastures are late coming on, they have the option of grazing the cover crops in the crop fields until the pastures are ready. Additionally, grazing cash-crop aftermath provides options while interseeding corn with cover crops further expands the effective grazing season. As Grant says, “Fat cattle going into the winter in Minnesota is priceless.”
Referring to the progress they are observing, Grant says, “There's so much simple stuff that you don't take into account.” Because they run a planter with individual boxes, Grant says, “You don't have to worry about a cloud of neonics (neonicotinoids) coming back in your face when you pour seed into the planter boxes. I mean, it's just the simplest things that we just don't even worry about anymore.”
Another key point of progress in the regenerative agriculture process was getting their lender to visit the farm for the first time in about 15 years. Their banker observed, firsthand, what they are doing, and how he can see for himself the “why” behind the improvement in their financial performance and position that he sees in their numbers. “It's a big load off our back,” Grant says “The banking side of it, the financial side of it is a big relief.” The timing of their banker’s visit to the farm could not have been better because Gabe Brown happened to be on the farm that day. The banker saw how they were applying all the soil health principles. “As he was leaving, he had a smile on his face, saying this all makes sense,” Grant says. Understanding Ag’s consultants stress the importance of inviting lenders, and others out on the farm to see for themselves the outcomes of regenerative agriculture.
Some agricultural lenders have been reluctant to lend to regenerative producers because of their lack of understanding of this different production strategy. Grant’s lender has struggled with the production changes on Stoney Creek Farm and he especially struggled with fitting their information into the format of the bank financial statement software. It’s a struggle because the expense categories don’t mesh well But Grant and his banker have now come to an understanding about how to reflect all the Breitkreutz’ information correctly.
In 2019, the agriculture economy struggled, and the agricultural lender wanted Grant and Dawn to complete a year-end cash flow statement by mid-September. Grant strongly opposed the request because so many of their cash inflows were yet to come and the only thing they knew for sure at that point was their small grain yields. They didn’t know how many calves they would have to sell or what they would weigh, nor did they know what the rest of the grains would yield. Grant reluctantly completed their request and the bank’s analysis showed Stoney Creek Farm’s equity decreasing by about $50,000 that year.
Grant said, “That ate at me all fall.” He wondered what he could do to try to regain $50,000 in equity after the growing season was already over. They didn't change their management plans, went back to the bank in mid-January and went through the same exercise. The banker, who Grant describes as “normally quiet and shy,” looked at Grant from across the desk, and said, “I don't know what the hell you're doing out there but keep doing it.” The next year, when he wanted Grant to come in again in mid-September, Grant declined.
A huge point of progress Grant likes to share is how his dad is interested in production agriculture again. Grant says he hated it when his father quit 25 years ago. It took a while to get him on board with the regenerative production practices, especially regarding pasture management. At first, he refused to learn anything about it, but he finally gave in and started sitting in on classes and talks after his wife, Deanna, shared everything she was learning during all the farm visits and talks. Grant says that now his father understands it, he’s all for it.
During the interview for this case study, Grant apologized for taking his phone out, to read a text message that his neighbors had just sent to Grant, Dawn and Shane to sharing news of his harvest results. He had completed his harvest and his entire corn crop averaged 180 bushels per acre in what had been designated a disaster area due to the drought, still meeting his yield goal. The note read: “Thank you to you and the Breitkreutz’ for all your efforts on our behalf. We are grateful.” He also sent a link to a newspaper article with a writeup about a recent field day they had sponsored on his farm featuring Gabe Brown as keynote speaker.
Field Day Workshop at the Farm
Not all the Breitkreutz’ neighbors have responded with such buy-in.“We've got neighbors and very good friends who ask questions, but they won't implement anything,” Dawn says. “So, it frustrates Grant, and he starts poking at them a bit and I tell him to just back off and leave them alone and say, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will come; we just need to be patient.’ That's hard because we are excited about this.”
Key Issues and Challenges
The biggest challenge the Breitkreutz’ have faced with row crop production occurred in 2017. Going into the production year, Grant felt they were in a very good place, producing corn with few inputs but then they received excessive moisture resulting in cover crop failures that really set them back. “Thank God we found David Brandt, because he's the one who explained to me what had happened,” Grant says. That excess rainfall can do more damage to soil than anything else, especially when we couldn’t get that cover crop going.”
Managing machinery has been a bit of a challenge for Grant and Dawn, as has changing their chemical use. including not considering chemical-residue lengths. Sourcing seeds was one problem that drove their decision to produce much of the seed they need themselves.
On the grazing and livestock side, early in their transition, they made tremendous soil health improvements in their grazing land, but they hurt their cattle initially because they weren't watching the cows’ condition closely enough. They weren't keeping the cattle full all the time, which ended up taking an average of 50 pounds per head off their calf weight that year. Grant sees now that they were focused too tightly on what they were doing for the land, the grasses, everything that they were producing, but not monitoring the cows closely enough. “We were pushing the cows too hard, and the calves weren't getting what they needed,” Dawn says. Grant added, “We were trying to do too much landscaping with the cow, with the calf at her side. We did tremendous things andwe changed the Home Farm in one year, but it cost us in calf weights. Now that we know that we don't push the herd too hard.”
“At that time, we didn't understand that we were managing an ecosystem,” Dawn says. “We were just focused on managing grass, period. We weren’t looking at the system.” Grant agreed saying, “I'd say that's one of the challenges, problems, key issues, and it's also one of the motivating factors, now that we realize that we are managing an entire ecosystem. And that fits into all sides of all those questions about regenerative agriculture.”
A key focus of Soil Health Academy teaching is understanding context. “One challenging point, before they (Gabe, Allen, and others) brought in the principle of context is that we were trying to operate outside of our context,” Dawn says. “The only example that we really had to consider at that time was Gabe's operation. We tried to mirror or too closely follow what Brown’s Ranch was doing. We've found that our context is really different from theirs and it has changed quite a bit, and it's changing so fast that it's hard to adapt sometimes. So, we're working hard on figuring out what our context is with Cody and Karlie and their family, with Grant and I, and the things we're currently doing, considering what we want to do, and how we make those changes. That context piece is huge. And I think that's something that people really need to put a lot of thought, and probably prayer, into to figuring it out. That’s one of the points I strongly stress when I’m at each three-day academy and talk to the students.”
The financial performance and position of Stoney Creek Farm has been strengthening since they began the transition to regenerative agriculture. “Dawn comes into the bank now and happily signs loan papers,” Grant says. Although they still borrow quite a bit of operating money because they are farming a lot of land, Grant says their financials are getting better and better every year.
“We're in a D-2 or a D-3 drought here and have been declared a disaster area, yet we're harvesting some really good crops,” Grant says. “We consistently do that year in and year out.” Their crop production has stabilized, which Grant attributes to consistently implementing the soil health principles. Their livestock production has also stabilized, and they consistently produce enough feed, enough grass and winter feeds, here now.
While the next story might be considered an unconventional regenerative success, Grant and Dawn say it’s an important part of regeneration on their farm: One of their part-time helpers is Bill Simmons, a disabled veteran who is considered 90 to 95% disabled by the federal government from injuries received during one of his tours of duty in Afghanistan. Dawn met Bill through the American Legion while Bill was living at the Eagles Healing Nest, a non-profit sober living facility in Redwood Falls, which is “committed to meeting the needs of veterans, service members and their families who suffer from the invisible wounds of war.” The Eagles Healing Nest in Redwood Falls is structured to assist veterans to get back on their feet and integrate back into society.
Bill has been very open about his past with Grant and Dawn. Prior to Bill’s joining the Eagles Healing Nest rehab program in another community, Bill admits he was one day away from killing himself. He had already decided when and how he was going to commit suicide when he was pulled over for a DWI. The arresting officer, who was also a military veteran, recognized the signs and asked Bill, “What's going on? What's wrong with you?” Bill says that policeman saved his life and helped get him into the rehab program at Eagles Healing Nest.
“Bill offered to help out on the farm, and he does a lot, he loves it out here,” Grant says. “Bill’s father eventually called and asked to come visit our farm. He said, ‘You have no idea what you've done for my son.’ So, Bill’s dad and stepmother came out and visited one weekend. It was powerful.” Grant and Dawn says there is truly healing and regeneration to human health and to the human psyche when a person connects with soil and with nature.
Key Influences and Influencers
Many who have had a major impact on Grant and Dawn are previously noted including Gabe Brown, Allen Williams, Ray Archuleta, David Brandt and Shane New. “In addition, each person who calls, emails, or texts and tells us of their own successes spurs us on – keeps us working hard to continue to improve and grow,” Dawn says.
Following the ‘iron sharpens iron model” Grant and Shane New, for several years now, have been challenging and pushing each other harder and farther to make progress in their regenerative journeys. Their current year’s-long challenge is developing a water system with reels on it. Grant says it appeared Shane was going to get his built first, then he got too busy, but so did Grant, so neither one has completed the challenge.
Changes in Wildlife, Birds, Insects
Regarding wildlife and bird populations on their farm in response to their adoption of regenerative production practices, Grant points to a youth hunt sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Minnesota. The Minnesota Education Association has a time for teacher training during which children don’t have school for three and a half days. The DNR thought that would be a good time to have a youth whitetail deer hunt for children under 18 years of age. Grant says, “Every kid hunting on our home farm got a deer this season. In contrast, on the new land we’ve been talking about, of the kids that hunted there, only one of them got a deer this year. The deer hunters, the kids who come out here feel it's an honor to meet me because of our management system. I mean, it's just incredible.” Grant says that as a child he remembered having a few deer around the farm during the winter months and when he and Dawn began farming 25 years ago, there weren’t many seen. However, now there are hundreds observed across the acres they manage, especially on the home farm.
Their landlord across the Minnesota River from the Breitkreutz’ home farm comments frequently about how many birds, insects, and how much wildlife have come back to her farm and ranch since they've been farming her land even though they’ve only been managing her land for two years. “It's just amazing what we can change in such a short period of time,” Grant says.
Birds are returning to the farm in abundance
The couple have also observed endangered species returning to their land, some of which haven’t been seen for generations. “Now they're here all the time,” he says. An example he cited is a type of skink (a type of lizard) they haven’t seen since Grant was a kid some 45 years ago, but now are back. A neighboring farmer regularly communicates with Grant and Dawn to let them know that he is seeing the same thing on his farm.
“There are also birds we've never seen,” Dawn says. Grant adds, “We get bird watchers here from all over, from many states away, to locate and observe the types of birds we have here. We have nesting pairs of cranes here season after season after season that migrate up here and nest on our land.”
In the fall of 2022, videographer Joe Dickie contacted Grant asking if he could come hunt pheasants. Grant told him, “I don't know if there's any pheasants here, but come on out.” Grant says, “Joe had a blast, and his dog had a blast. He didn't shoot a single pheasant, but he told us we have pheasants everywhere. That's not something we ever used to see.” “We see many more grouse, quail, raptors like eagles and hawks and owls,” Dawn says, and we’ve also noticed an increase all over the farm in burrowing animals that are predators of pocket gophers. While that helps keep the pocket gophers in check, it can be hard on our machinery when we drop into a hole dug into our crop fields.”
Recommendations for Someone Considering Regenerative Agriculture
Grant’s first recommendation to someone considering making the transition from conventional to regenerative production is to get started right away. “Jump on in, but do it with caution. Like Dawn mentioned with the importance of understanding context, don't lose the farm. Start with the six principles (of soil health) and implement them as you feel comfortable. Remember, it's a learning process. It is important to remember, too, that no farm or ranch will ever be managed the same; nor should they be.”
Grant highlighted the importance of starting small, at a level that is comfortable to the decision maker, while making a commitment to make it work, and then observing and documenting changes carefully. “As human beings, we can make anything fail,” he says. “It takes the right heart, the right mindset to make things work.” Dawn stressed the importance of embracing the work over the long haul. “You must have a lot of patience,” she says. “Those new to implementing regenerative production practices based on the principles of soil health need to remember it takes time. It’s unrealistic to expect to see immediate results. Before we changed our farm to regenerative practices, I almost dreaded going outside to work some days. Now, I cherish the land we are working on and enjoy watching the life we have helped create thriving on the land. It makes my heart feel good.”
Why we do what we do. Grant and Dawn’s daughter with the grandchildren