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Reflecting on 48 years: From grain to grass to generational transfer

Kindra Gordon for Progressive Forage Published on 30 August 2019
Myron Lick family cows

Transitioning with conservation proved key to this family ranching operation’s survival

“The learning curve in agriculture is constant,” says Myron Lick as he reflects on his 48 years of farming and ranching.

Lick, who operates Ruso Ranch – near Ruso, North Dakota – with wife Georgean and daughter and son-in-law Nick and Farrah Faulkner, has been willing to adapt and change their operation over the decades and says the addition of conservation practices were ultimately key to the ranch still being operated today.

He adds, “I don’t know that there was a time when I wasn’t interested in conservation.” He also credits the South McLean County Soil Conservation District (SCD), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other conservation and wildlife entities for being partners in fostering conservation ideas, technical assistance and funding to benefit the land – and those living on the land.

As an example, Lick recalls the South McLean County SCD establishing no-till demonstration plots in the county in the 1970s. “I followed that over the years, and we began doing some testing on our operation with a Haybuster no-till drill … and by 1987, bought an air seeder. Those practices helped us save fuel, and we were saving moisture in the field. The years 1988 through 1990 were some of the driest periods I ever remember.”

But by the year 2000, Lick was forced to change again, as their average annual rainfall of 14 inches more than doubled, with 36 inches of rainfall in 2000 and more than 30 inches of rainfall for the next few years. Lick says, “Everything I had learned from the dry years was no longer useful.”

Lick observed that the wet years were detrimental to the land, causing saline seeps and salinity in the soil. Through conversations with NRCS staff and participation in holistic programs and grazing conferences, Lick says, “I decided I needed to change and do things differently. We had always run some cattle, and I realized we could raise more grass and livestock.”

Lick says he had a “complete paradigm shift.” Working with NRCS through an Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program contracts, Lick and his family converted over 1,000 acres of their water-logged cropland to permanent grass pastures; they also added cross-fencing and water developments and transitioned existing cropland to cover crops for forage. With those resources in place, they increased their cow herd size and added yearling grazers to the operation, which allows flexibility to increase or decrease stocking rate based on the available forage for that growing season.

Water tank for four different pastures

A short-duration rotational grazing system is utilized, and the increase in livestock numbers has opened the doors to opportunities for the direct marketing of Ruso Ranch-raised beef.

Lick concludes, “I knew we had to make a change [from grain farming]. Those were not very profitable years and, if we didn’t change, we weren’t going to be able to continue to operate.”

Over the years, as Ruso Ranch has continued to enhance their conservation practices, in addition to NRCS programs funding from Turtle Creek Watershed 319 grants, North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund monies and conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited have all contributed to the land and management changes made.

David Hendrickson, NRCS district conservationist for the Turtle Lake Field Office, credits the Lick family for being one of the most conservation-minded families in their soil conservation district. Hendrickson adds, “From their early cropland management changes to reduce soil erosion and save moisture to their more recent conversion to grassland-based agriculture, the Lick family has always worked toward a more holistic style of land conservation. Myron is often sought out for rotational grazing information by other producers and always willing to discuss how the changes to their farming and ranching operation has improved their family life.”

Today, Lick says the rewards from the conservation changes made are numerous. “Going to a grass-based operation has done amazing things for our soil. We’ve learned how to better manage grass. But we don’t know all the answers yet. It’s a dynamic system that’s always changing.”

Most importantly, Myron and Georgean Lick take pride in having a sustainable ranch in place for the next generation: their daughter and son-in-law. They’ve been transitioning ownership and management to Nick and Farrah for the last several years, and Myron and Georgean are looking forward to a new challenge: retirement.  end mark

PHOTO 1: The Myron Lick family transitioned from water-logged cropland to permanent grass pastures. They increased their cow herd numbers and in abundant forage years also run yearling grazers. Lick reports the switch has brought sustainability back to the family operation.

PHOTO 2: Using a short duration rotational grazing system on the Ruso Ranch requires frequent moves from one pasture to the next. Cross-fencing allows the water tank to be accessible from four different pastures, which makes the rotational system work effectively.  Photos provided by Myron Lick.

This article was provided as a courtesy from the National Grazing Lands Coalition, which includes a network of state grazing coalitions that offer producer resources. For more information, visit National Grazing Lands Coalition or follow NatGLC on Facebook.