ND ranch family improves land with DU's help

Ducks Unlimited program helps regenerate grassland, soil health, and clean water

Dustin and Barbara Roise are farmers and ranchers. Like many others, their family land and business were passed down from generation to generation. The couple’s goal is to graze their livestock 365 days a year, run a profitable operation and improve their land for future generations.


Ducks Unlimited’s Cover Crop and Livestock Integration Project is helping the Roises adopt soil health practices that will help them fight a challenge affecting millions of producers across the country, soil erosion.


Over the years as the number of grazing animals, like bison, declined, so did the health of the soil. Fewer bison meant less natural fertilizer and regrowth of productive grasses. The result was soil that held fewer nutrients, retained less water and were more susceptible to wind erosion, which can make flooding more frequent.


Ducks Unlimited’s North Dakota team is partnering with private landowners to implement soil health practices that also help protect wetlands and provide better habitat.


“By listening to farmers’ concerns and identifying mutually beneficial solutions, we are implementing practices to improve the resilience of our soil,” said DU North Dakota Biologist Dane Buysse.


When Dustin and Barbara took over his father’s operation, they made the decision to plant marginal cropland back to grass. Working with Ducks Unlimited, they will plant full season cover crops on land traditionally used for corn sileage. Grazing cattle on their cover crops play a key role in increasing organic matter back to historic levels and improving water infiltration.


The Roises are doing many things to regenerate their land, including winter bale grazing on marginal soils to improve organic matter, rotational grazing to allow for grass rest recovery, and working with the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service to install grazing infrastructure. Ducks Unlimited is providing cost-share for installing fence, water and cover crops.


“DU is working with producers by reducing up-front costs for installing grazing infrastructure and planting cover crops. These practices are helping the Roises extend their grazing into winter, which keeps the cattle out of the yard and out on the landscape,” Buysse said.


The changes are dramatic. Dustin’s dad has photos from 60 years ago, where heavy rains carved deep gullies in their land.


“Seeing those photos reminds me of how important it is we continue to improve our land management,” Dustin said.


The changes the couple is making recreates the ancient scenario of bison grazing on the prairie and being moved along by predators. Grazing cattle in a specific quadrant of cropland and installing cross fence to move them to other quadrants of grass allows the benefits of natural fertilizer and plant regrowth to occur. Do this process on a rotating grid of cropland and grassland and you have year-round natural soil regeneration for decades to come.