Breitkreutz Family, Redwood County
For a few miles along a gravel road north of Redwood Falls, you’ll find a lot of people named Breitkreutz. And about 180 head of Red Angus cattle grazing on pasture and cover crops, born and raised on the farm.
The ones primarily in charge of those cattle are Grant, Dawn and Karlie Breitkreutz of Stoney Creek Farm.
“We are the third generation here, and Karlie is the fourth,” Grant said. “We started more than 20 years ago. My dad is retired but still lives here on the farm.”
Grant and Dawn are the first generation of their family to join Minnesota Farmers Union. Ever since they took over, they’ve put a massive effort into Stoney Creek’s soil health – and it’s paid off. They won awards from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Beef Magazine in 2016 for environmental stewardship.
Regenerating soil and fun
The Breitkreutzes no-till all 400 acres of their tillable land and plant cover crops on every acre. Additionally, they run the cattle across everything they can, strip grazing the cover crops.
“Our goal is to regenerate our soils,” Grant said. “We’ve just about doubled our organic matter on all of the land we farm.”
The cattle, some of whom calve in spring and some in fall, wean their calves into the cover crop species. That’s enough to feed the cattle into the winter months
“Then the next year, it’s set up perfectly for corn with basically no fertility needed,” Grant said.
Cover crops are touted for their ability to hold soil and prevent erosion; reduce weeds and pests; and provide pollinator and wildlife habitat. The Breitkreutzes have noticed those changes in their land over time.
“At minimum, we’re at six inches per hour of infiltration on our farmed fields,” Grant said. “So we can taken in six inches of rainfall in an hour… In Minnesota we’re dealing with the buffer law and the nitrogen rule. All that stuff isn’t a concern for us because we know everything’s going in the soil where it needs to go.”
Plus, they have saved money on input costs with less need to buy fertilizer and tillage equipment. It’s to the point where Grant said they can make money with $3.25 corn. While the April blizzards did cause some panic, they have flexibility in what they can do with their plans.
Grant’s family hadn’t farmed the same way when he was growing up, so he didn’t go into farming that way immediately. They’re glad they’ve made the change.
“Now that we’ve figured out how to regenerate soil, farming is fun and exciting again,” he said.
Stoney Creek’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by agencies and fellow farmers. Grant is frequently called upon to speak about the family’s soil health practices and to host field days with groups such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Last fall, the family put on their own field day called “Back to the Future, Back to Soil Health.” About 90 people attended, despite it being harvest season.
Learning soil health tactics was no easy task for Grant and Dawn themselves.
“When we started doing this, Grant learned about it through reading,” Dawn said. “There was nobody around here who was doing it. We had to travel quite a bit to see the people who were focusing on this, mostly in North Dakota.”
The couple got to know Gabe Brown, a North Dakota farmer known for soil health expertise. Grant said they’d bring back pieces of soil from their trips and test out conservation practices they learned. They turned to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for financial assistance and were happy with how those programs worked for them.
In fact, it worked so well that they no longer need those programs. They work hard to spread their message to area farmers, and even their family.
“It’s taken awhile for Grant’s dad to climb on board with this,” Dawn said. “His mom was kind of the go-between, telling him what she heard us talk about. Now he’s all on board. He’s running equipment now and telling his networks about it.”
The next ambition for the Breitkreutz family is Karlie’s. She will be running a direct-market beef business off the farm, called Ten Creek Grange. Karlie’s been working on the farm her whole life and is devoted to staying.
“I was always told that if you don’t bring something new to the table, you’re not an asset,” she said.
Grant and Dawn direct-marketed their beef when they started out, but drifted away from it over time. Now they want to move towards selling all of their beef that way. They’re already raising most of their calves towards finishing them on their farm.
“I ran a restaurant for a couple years, and we had a freezer in there,” Dawn said. “Later I stepped away from the restaurant and we didn’t have a storefront to put it in anymore.”
Now that they’re going back to that market, Karlie hopes she can educate consumers about agriculture through her work.
“My hope is that my trailer and direct-marketing will bring a lot of people out to our farm to see how it works and the difference in what they’re buying here vs. what they’re buying at a store,” Karlie said.
With the general population getting further removed from the farm, it’s a noble goal.
Like many MFU members, the Breitkreutz family appreciates the opportunity to make their voices heard as farmers.
“We can’t all be in St. Paul or Washington, D.C., but if we’re a member of farm organizations, hopefully what we’re thinking on the farm gets translated to the people who are going to regulate us,” Grant said.
They are also members of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, in addition to MFU. Grant is the Vice President of that group.
Policy-wise, the Breitkreutzes want to increase education about soil health to farmers, without threats of penalties.
“It would be nice to see more incentives than regulations and negatives,” Dawn said.
They do appreciate any connection they can get with legislators – a connection that MFU provides.
“It’s cool to meet with them and see their genuine interest in what’s going on out here,” Dawn said. “If we don’t say anything, they don’t know there’s a problem.”