On a beautiful, late summer afternoon in the Helena Valley, Tim Dusenberry – the owner and operator of XX Bar Farm & Ranch – described the transition that his family operation had undergone in the span of the last ten years. Speaking outdoors to a crowd of around thirty attendees at Northern Plains Resource Council’s last Soil Crawl of 2021, Dusenberry described how he had transformed the family’s irrigated hay fields into lush, rotationally-grazed paddocks that sustain the livestock he sells directly to consumers. “We used to sell a lot of hay, but now we prefer keeping the nutrients on the operation. That’s what builds our soil and supports the grass we graze our animals on,” he explained.
The shift towards regenerative production methods was spurred by a workshop Dusenberry attended in 2012 with Gabe Brown, a North Dakota farmer and well-known soil health advocate. The workshop pushed the Dusenberrys to begin looking at the soil beneath their feet, which led them to introduce rotational grazing and reduce chemical inputs on their operation. Dusenberry noted that he now regularly observes dung beetles – evidence of improved soil health – which he had never seen prior to eliminating insecticides five years ago. The shift also coincided with Tim taking over much of the operation’s management from his father, Jim Dusenberry. Standing alongside his son, the elder Dusenberry reflected on the generational transition. “I never thought about doing the things [Tim] is now doing”, he observed. “It’s just amazing to see the results.”
The Dusenberrys were joined by Becky Ayre, the Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist for Lewis & Clark County, who performed an infiltration test for excited onlookers. Pouring water over a cross-section of PVC pipe, Ayre simulated a large rainfall on the Dusenberry pasture. During the demonstration, she explained how healthier soil has a capacity to hold water rather than allowing it to run off. The event drew a mix of attendees from the urban environments of Helena and Great Falls and a handful of producers from Drummond to Townsend. While it marked the end of the summer soil crawl calendar, Northern Plains is preparing for a busy schedule full of soil crawls during the 2022 growing season.