Featured Farmer - J.P. and Holly Heber
Combining love of the land and cattle with modern practices is giving one young South Dakota couple a sustainable foundation for their farm, family and community.
J.P. and Holly Heber own and operate M&H Land and Cattle near Redfield, south of Aberdeen where they raise beef cows and calves and crops. They have a custom cow/calf and backgrounding operation and care for embryo transplanted cows. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa to sell, and they grow mixed hay beardless barley, hay millet and corn silage to feed the cattle they raise.
J.P. and Holly have been married for four years and have a seven-month-old son, Haven. Both J.P. and Holly grew up in production agriculture. J.P. and his brother took over the family's farm operation after he finished secondary education, and he and Holly formed M&H Land & Cattle when they were married.
Low stress cattle handling techniques have become an important part of the operation. Practices like minimal to no use of hotshots and other sorting sticks and awareness and respect for eye pressure paired with the knowledge that the first experience in a new place sets the tone has proven well worth the time and energy required. They've seen cattle in better condition, have better pregnancy rates, gain weight better and be more responsive to handlers.
They use rotational pasture management and conservation practices to ensure quality on the operation for years to come. They've adopted no-till practices in farming to conserve water and control erosion on fields. They use georeference soil sampling, tissue test corn ,and try different products to accommodate the different soil types on their farm.
Farming today is not without its challenges, but the Hebers believe the rewards go beyond the financial.
"The reward is getting to watch the sun come up and go down and know that we are doing it all for something larger than ourselves," said the Hebers. Watching animals and crops grow and prosper gives them a different perspective on success.
"The reward comes to us in a different fashion. It comes from putting seed in the dry dirt, running our costs and making decisions accordingly, and knowing all there is left to do is pray and leave it in God's hands, then watching the crops sprout and grow," said the Hebers .
They see the same cycle each spring, often bringing calves indoors to protect from spring storms, then seeing those same calves returned to the pasture and doubling in size.
The Hebers serve on the local Young Farmers and Ranchers committee for Spink County Farm Bureau and at the state level. They are also the county conservation's soil health representatives. They are active in local and state FFA and 4-H programs, and J.P. is currently participating in the SDARL (South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership) program.
"We believe agriculture is the foundation of South Dakota's economy," said the Hebers "There is not a single part of South Dakota's economy that is not touched by agriculture."
Agriculture's role in the economy goes beyond buying and selling equipment or crops that many people think about. Small purchases add up to big business in local communities – from bolts at a hardware store to meals for field crews at a restaurant – all fueled by agriculture.
Across the state, farmers and ranchers play important roles by feeding and sheltering the wildlife that fuel South Dakota's growing hunting tourism industry. The forestry segment of South Dakota agriculture helps provide the lumber for growing cities and tourism sectors in the Black Hills.
Farm families are also tremendous assets to local communities, said the Hebers. Small communities like Redfield face the same challenges as larger cities: hunger, raising children of character and agricultural literacy. Farm families help in all these areas by supporting local businesses, charities and school systems. In Redfield, a group of young producers visit area schools each year during National Ag Week to lead activities, read books and answer questions about farming and ranching.
"Farm families around Redfield are some of the most generous you will find in giving of their time, talent, and treasures," they say. "When tough times hit, businesses are able to survive because our farm families work hard to keep dollars within the community so other businesses are able to grow."