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Ranching on the High Plains
South Dakota Ag Connection - 07/12/2019

Stuart and Lisa Schmidt are fourth-generation ranchers on the South Dakota high plains. Stuart's great-grandfather came from Hampton, Iowa, in 1910 and settled in the house where Stuart and Lisa raised their family and live today.

Growing up in the ranching business, Lisa always knew she wanted to be a rancher. Her stepfather helped her purchase cows and lease a range unit from the Standing Rock Tribe. When Stuart and Lisa married in 1985, they both wanted to continue raising livestock.

Located on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, the ranch manages their working lands with both natural resources and production in mind.

"We try to mimic our operation to be in sync with nature, and I think that my family probably did that for many generations out of necessity," said Stuart. "That was just a part of who they were. They had to adapt and live with the land rather than try and farm it or go against it."

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service have helped the Schmidts ranch sustainability. Stuart worked with NRCS to add cross-fencing to subdivide pastures and put to work a rotational grazing system. By moving the cattle more frequently, she could avoid overgrazing and improve the health of the grassland.

"My husband and I have been conservationists for most of our adult lives," said Lisa. "We see it as a necessity for the future of this ranch. We have been working to build a healthy soil base and raise livestock that will thrive in a rough environment. I think it takes a lifetime to work at sustainability for any ranch operation and to ultimately be able to pass it on to the next generation."

While NRCS programs helped the couple with their conservation goals, Farm Service Agency programs, like the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, provided assistance when times were tough.

"It helped us during some very difficult times," said Lisa.

Lisa and Stuart's children are carrying on the tradition of ranching sustainably.

Their daughter, Tottie, ranches with her husband just south of Mud Butte, South Dakota. Their son, Chuck, and his wife run the ranch with Lisa and Stuart, while leasing a neighboring ranch for his own cattle operation.

"We mostly keep rotating as much as we can utilizing grass as much as we can," says Chuck.

"We are grazers. We are grass managers. We are used-solar salesmen," says Stuart. "We use sunlight and rain and grass. That's what makes our living."

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