The White House recently recognized 12 Champions of Change for their leadership in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture. This week we will meet them through their USDA Regional Climate Hub, today featuring the Northern Plains’ Keith Berns, Larry Cundall and Martin Kleinschmit.
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska comprise the Northern Plains Region. The region accounts for a quarter of irrigated lands in the U.S. and more than a third of the pasture/rangelands. The Northern Plains has an extensive precipitation and temperature gradient moving from east to west, which provides a diverse array of environmental conditions for agriculture throughout the region.
The region faces longer and warmer growing seasons, earlier arrival of spring, and altered distribution of seasonal precipitation. These changes can affect agriculture production in a number of ways such as the timing of snowmelt for irrigation and changes in pest and weed pressure. Additionally, extreme weather events such as drought are occurring at greater frequency, duration, and intensity. The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub (NPRCH) produced a vulnerability assessment of key agriculture enterprises in the six-state area that highlights a number of adaption and mitigation strategies available to producers.
NPRCH is working with the Extension Service at all six land grant universities in the region to connect agriculture producers to the most current science. This relationship also helps make researchers more aware of information from producers about the tools they need to address increasing production, climate and weather variability. This growing partnership helps ensure the future of quality food and fiber for our nation while managing for the health of our nation’s natural resources.
These early adopters of strategies to build resiliency in their operation are industry leaders. The three from the Northern Plains honored by the White House for their work included:
Keith Berns and his brother Brian are co-owners and operators of Providence Farms, a 2,000-acre diversified family farming operation in Bladen, Nebraska and Green Cover Seed, one of the nation’s leading providers of cover crop information and seed. Green Cover Seed has grown from supplying seed and information for 1,000 acres of cover crops in 2009 to over 500,000 acres in 2015. Green Cover Seed’s SmartMix Calculator is the industry standard for planning and designing cover crop mixes and is used extensively across the country. Keith spends countless hours educating farmers and ranchers about the importance of soil health and carbon sequestration through field days, workshops, and conferences.
Larry Cundall, a Vietnam War Veteran and fourth generation rancher from Glendo, Wyoming, is a leader in his ranching community. His priority is managing his land for increased productivity, while also protecting wildlife and natural resources for future generations. Larry manages water in an effort to decrease use and cut down on labor costs. He has switched from windmills to solar wells, added miles of waterlines for better water use and grazing distribution. He was one of the first ranchers in Wyoming to sell carbon credits and led efforts to help ranchers unite to sell wind leases on the windblown short grass prairie. For more than 25 years, Larry has served as an advisor for agriculture research and outreach grants on behalf of the University of Wyoming and USDA’s Western SARE program.
Martin Kleinschmit is the owner of an organic farm in Nebraska that produces organic grains and forages grass-finished cattle on annual and permanent pastures. The farm maintains natural fertility using crop rotations, cover crop mixtures, and animal impact. After recognizing the need for a high microbial life to foster carbon sequestration, Martin mentored other farmers through a 4-year program that was instrumental in enrolling over 60,000 Nebraska acres in a USDA organic transition program. While serving as a staff member for the Center for Rural Affairs for 17-years, Martin managed and taught programs to inform farmers of the importance of soil carbon. In an effort to minimize the use of fossil fuels Martin now owns and manages MarLin Wind & Solar LLC. He currently holds positions on the rural water district board and a directorship for the Nebraska Farmers Union.
These Champions of Change are making a difference in the Northern Plains and we look forward to working with them and others like them to pave the way to a more resilient future.