ADAIR, Okla. – Some people might call it mundane if a person had the same goal every day.
Rather than jumping to that conclusion, listen to Dean Schneider’s never-ending target as a producer.
“Growing up as a farmer, every day is about making the farm better,” said Schneider who was born and raised on a corn, beans, cattle and hogs operation in Muscatine, Iowa. “Watching the plants, animals and property itself flourish is always the goal.”
That’s a goal, that’s a responsibility – regardless of the circumstances.
Some days come with storms, others with heat and drought, and “all these things hit hard, deep inside a farmer.”
“We are stewards of the land we try every day to just make things better,” Schneider, who embraces that not as a cliché’, but as a direction for his life.
About 25 years ago Schneider and his family moved to Northeast Oklahoma near Adair. The area is often referred to as “Green Country” and for the most part that is a very accurate description.
“The combination of 42” of rain a year, fairly mild winters, and long growing seasons make it a great place to live and raise cattle.”
Being focused on improving an operation, as Schneider is, means being open to changes.
“Growing up doing a lot of farming with conventional tillage, you can’t help but feel it deep inside when you see the rain and wind erosion that takes place,” he said. “Even as we worked with ‘improved’ practices such as minimum-till, no-till, terraces, etc., I could still see the problems and to a large degree they weren’t solved.”
Then Schneider said they moved away from cropping and just into cattle in Oklahoma. The problems became more of low water infiltration, high synthetic fertilizer use, constant herbicide use, etc.
“From a financial standpoint and looking at the future of agriculture production, I just knew something had to change,” he said. “Then about five years ago at a forage and grazing conference I saw a rainfall simulator demonstration and that turned the lights on. Since then it has been a wild ride that has replaced most of my previously learned knowledge with much more practical, common sense approaches that just plain make sense.”
The first practices they implemented on their ranch were rotational grazing, cutting herbicide, and cutting insecticide use on the cattle.
“As we have continued down this road, the main thing we have done is to intensify everything,” he said. “Most of our cattle are now being moved daily and we are looking at the possibility of multiple moves a day with ultra-high stock densities as a way of increasing soil microbiology stimulation. Along with this we have almost eliminated herbicide use, insecticide use and application of synthetic fertilizers.”
Schneider found that the beauty of what they are doing is that you don’t have to do much except for watch the land and manage the grass. That approach includes leaving plenty of grass to keep the solar panels (which are the plant leaves) working and the roots growing along with keeping the soil covered so that it doesn’t roast in the heat or erode in the rain are the keys.
“Then just let nature and biology do its thing,” he said.
The bottom line for Schneider’s family is that this is a business and their livelihood.
“It is both financially and sustainability wise, rewarding,” he said. “The increased water infiltration, the carbon we are seeing go back into the soil, our reduction of machinery, fuel, labor costs, are all benefits we are seeing. These things not only are direct and current financial benefits, they are also a tremendous insurance plan against drought and other weather related disasters. It’s amazing when you start thinking about what increasing the water infiltration rates of our soils does for drought control, flood control, water quality, etc.”
Then he pauses for a second to consider how far they have come in such a short time.
“And to think it is really not that complicated, it just takes stepping back and really looking at what our soils need and what they can do for us if we just work with it instead of against it,” Schneider said.
That doesn’t mean, the learning curve has gone flat. Schneider said he works with and likes to attend
conferences of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Grazing Coalition, several regenerative Facebook groups, and some private groups such as Understanding Ag.
“They are incredibly valuable in learning and sharing new insights and ideas,” he said. “In reality, the soil health field is still in its infancy and new information is being discovered daily.”
He gives as example a three-day course he took a couple of years ago by Soil Health Academy/Understanding Ag.
“The ability to go to an individual’s ranch and see things first hand, while being instructed by four of the most knowledgeable people in the field was incredible,” he said.
Schneider embraces the opportunity to be around those who champion soil health, because of their positive attitudes and the hope that yields.
“Things are changing,” Schneider said. “Every year numbers involved in regenerative agriculture are growing exponentially and it’s great to see.”
He enjoys the idea of paying soil health knowledge forward. So in the last couple of years they have worked with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to help host a local field day to share what they are doing.
“It has provided a wonderful opportunity to expose people to some new ideas and possibilities that are out there,” he said. “It has been a lot of fun and I enjoy helping people get started on their own journeys of soil health.”
That’s just another way Schneider can strive every day not only to make his operation better, but also the farms and ranches of others.
–Oklahoma Conservation Commission
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