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EcoSun Prairie Farms Grows Grass; Tour August 3!

Last updated on 2014.06.18

Can you make a living growing grass? (Down, Larry, down!) Prairie and wetlands researcher and advocate Carter Johnson thinks so. In 2007, he and some fellow high-brain-power folks from SDSU started EcoSun Prairie Farms on a square-mile section of land south of Brookings. Johnson and company raise one crop on their 600 acres: native prairie grass, a cluster of plant species that we've eradicated from 99.5% of their pre-Manifest-Destiny prairie habitat.

EcoSun Prairie Farms' primary revenue comes from selling grass seed. They also cash in on livestock by selling hay for feed and raising some of their own grass-fed Hereford—Angus beef.

Now you may wonder how a farm can compete raising plain old grass when it could be cashing in on high corn and soybean prices. But remember: turning a profit isn't just about increasing income; it's also about decreasing expenses. According to Pete Carrels, who has moved from the Sierra Club to do marketing and outreach for EcoSun Prairie Farms, farming grass costs two thirds less than farming row crops. They had to pour on some herbicides at the start to get rid of weeds associated with the tillage farming for which the land was previoulsy used, but now, there are no chemical inputs. Spend less on chemicals and machinery and fuel, and you don't have to plant the ditches to cover your debts.

Naturally, raising grass benefits the prairie, not just the pocketbook. Farmer Dr. Johnson explains:

The minute you plant grass, the advantages begin to accrue.... Preventing soil erosion is a primary advantage. Tillage or even no-till have higher erosion rates than perennial grass farming, and this is especially true when you compare conventional tillage. There's less runoff on the grass farm, and that means the water stays on our land and moves through our plants, and it won't be running off and carrying soil into surface water. That also means soil fertility is protected, and so is surface water. Grass farming also protects groundwater because you use few or no fertilizers and biocides. Everything you look at that has any connection to the environment is better off with grass versus row crops. The main thing is that we're bringing the natural ecosystem back [Carter Johnson, quoted in Pete Carrels, "Planting Prairie for Profit," Dakotafire, 2012.07.09].

Turning a profit while restoring wetlands and native species sounds like a longer-lasting solution than draining every acre and planting fenceline to fenceline with single strains of corporate-owned and engineered seed.

If you'd like to see the future of sustainable farming firsthand, EcoSun Prairie Farms is hosting a tour on Friday, August 3, at 1 p.m. Carrels provides the following directions:

To find the farm from Interstate 29, take Exit 114, the Flandreau exit. Travel west on 230th Street for about 3.5 miles (2 miles past the junction with Highway 77) to 469th Avenue. Signs will direct you the remainder of the way. Parking areas will be marked.

If you want more info, give the farm a shout.


  1. Julie Gross (NE) 2012.07.26

    --than draining every acre and planting fenceline to fenceline with single strains of corporate-owned and engineered seed.

    Yes, it's better to drain every acre and plant fenceline to fenceline with strains of corporate owned and engineered grass seed from EcoSun Prairie Farms, INC. and Sierra Club INC.

  2. Charlie Hoffman 2012.07.26

    Corey thanks for putting this up; way cool stuff. We have been putting smaller fields back into native warm season grass but it is with horribly self serving interests. You see the Ringneck Pheasant loves nesting in tall warm season grass more than any other medium. And big Whitetail bucks love bedding down in it more than any other medium too. Besides absorbing more water, controlling erosion, and providing ducks, geese, wildflowers, prairie songbirds, Sharptail grouse, hawks, partridge, Prairie Owls, etc. a place to live, we get an abundance of roosters to harvest every Fall and just maybe my neighbors, my son or myself get to harvest a 200 Pt. buck because of it. Win, win, win!!!

  3. larry kurtz 2012.07.26

    Wild turkeys eat grasshoppers by the pound: they are indigenous to that habitat.

    Their extirpation in favor of the invasive Chinese Ring-necked Pheasant has devolved to applications of industrial chemicals as life support for the soils.

  4. Charlie Hoffman 2012.07.26

    But Larry we here in North Central McPherson County have never had an indigenous turkey living here in about 100,000,000 years; (no trees) but those grasshoppers have been here for 10X that span. Why do you hate grasshoppers so much Larry? And what the heck is "extirpation"? Does it have something to do with bowel movements? (Something we all know you are well informed of as we get to read it constantly!)

  5. larry kurtz 2012.07.26

    guess where all those oak trees went, charlie?

    9,000 years ago, creek beds were highways, acorns helped sustain both turkeys and humans migrating northward as the glacier retreated.

  6. Charlie Hoffman 2012.07.26

    That glacier was 15,000 years ago BTW; and C'mon Larry , Oak Trees in Northern SD in that short of time period? Glaciers come and go about every 60,000 years. Has everything to do with the Milky Way rotation having US in it and zero from anything we do here on Earth. Burn it up buddy, the solar system is in charge. (Well really Al Gore is in charge right now; but that will change.)

  7. larry kurtz 2012.07.26

    Lake Benton was dry in 1935: howz it look out your way today?

  8. larry kurtz 2012.07.26

    Charlie: do follow Woster's TIO blog? Your SDGOP's wildlife policy is crumbling, too.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.07.27

    Lake Herman remains at a normal level, Larry, though way down from the May flood level and from last year.

    Charlie, I have no problem with your restoring prairie for purely selfish interest. I don't advocate a healthy ecosystem because I worship Gaia; I advocate it because I like eating, drinking, and breathing. And not to mingle issues, but a friend of mine said, "I'm a socialist because I recognzie it's in my own best interest to be a socialist."

    And Julie, actually, yes, the whole thesis of this post is that it is better to plant an entire section with diverse native grasses than with monocultural Monsanto corn.

  10. Julie Gross NE 2012.07.27

    --the whole thesis of this post is that it is better to plant an entire section with diverse native grasses than with monocultural Monsanto corn.

    "Better" is a subjective determination.

    Freedom means that farmers can ans should make decisons for THEMSELVES as to what is "

    That's should be the thesis. Always.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.07.27

    What dissembling relativist rot, Julie. Farmers can make good decisions and bad decisions. EcoSun Prairie Farms is showing farmers they have an healthier, sustainable alternative to the slavery of big-machine, big-chemical Monsanto monoculture. What's wrong with that?

  12. larry kurtz 2012.07.28

    "According to EWG, conventionally raised lamb, beef, cheese and pork also generate more polluting waste, pound for pound. Of these, lamb has the greatest impact, followed by beef and then by cheese—so vegetarians who eat dairy aren’t off the hook.

    “Beef has more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times more than chicken and more than 13 times as much as vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils and tofu,” summarizes EWG." Scientific American

  13. Julie Gross NE 2012.07.30

    --EcoSun Prairie Farms is showing farmers they have an healthier, sustainable alternative to the slavery of big-machine, big-chemical Monsanto monoculture. What’s wrong with that?

    Trading Monsanto for big-machine. big-gov't subsidized EcoSun Prairie Farms INC. and Sierra Club INC. is no improvement.

    Healthier? What relativist rot.

    btw, "What dissembling relativist rot, Julie" is not very civil or responsive. How about we discuss the issues? Can we be more intelligent?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.07.30

    Excuse me, Julie, but could you tell us how much federal subsidy EcoSun receives, and compare it to comparable subsidies for Monsanto-based corporate agriculture?

    Dissembling relativist rot: don't try to distract us from the true nature of your words. My post and the original article show numerous ways in which this model of farming beats being a slave to Monsanto seed and big machinery. You mutter something about subjectivity, as if that excuses you to hold whatever opinion you want. That's relativist rot, a dissembling attempt to avoid engaging the argument. Intelligence requires that we recognize such abdications of responsibility.

  15. John Hess 2014.08.30

    Does EcoSun receive government assistance? Did they put the land in a Grassland Easement Program or are they doing a CRP practice? If much of their revenue comes from seed, that doesn't seem like a sustainable model. It's great they have a local market but I was told if you feed only grass it take much longer for a cow to mature, 2 seasons rather than one, and in our part of the country you have to provide feed for them over winter which makes our climate less suitable for grass-fed-only operations. Or was I told wrong?

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