Flint Hills Graziers
by Judi Stevens
133 Quail Road
Ramona, KS 67475
Bob Greenwood and Judi Stevens,
Gerald and Jeanne Rziha,
Rick and Barb Hanschu, Romona
Jack and Nancy Riggin, Burdick
Duane Schierling, Hillsboro
Kelly and Terri Novak, Tampa
Gordon and Pat Christiansen,
Raymond Bielefield, Hope
at the farm of Gerald and Jeanne Rziha, near Tampa.
The story of the Flint Hills Graziers cannot be told without giving considerable attention to one determined individual. In the early 1990s, Duane Schierling held the position of feed specialist for the Agriproducers Co-op in Tampa, Kansas. His position took him on-site to many of the agricultural operations in Dickinson, Marion, and Morris counties.
Visiting with the producers and his own personal farm experiences made Duane aware of the problems facing family farmers. Searching for alternative solutions to their economic difficulties became a priority for Duane. More and more of the smaller dairy, hog, and beef producers were getting out of the business, impacting the communities and small towns in the area. Those who were left were looking for something different to help them survive. Duane became the link among them. He found grant money from the Kellogg Foundation through the Heartland Network.
By this time, Duane knew the producers who were ready to try a new approach. In 1995, he brought these people together to form the Flint Hills Graziers as part of the Rural Center's cluster groups.
Managing grass was the main concern of those first meetings. The early meetings covered topics such as rotational grazing, fencing, grass varieties, pond development, and soil conservation. By the spring of 1996, several members attended the Management Intensive Grazing School sponsored by the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center. For many of the attendees, the information presented was a total departure from the usual. Not everyone incorporated all the strategies into their operations and certainly not all at once, but a definite paradigm shift was beginning.
Summer field trips to visit operations already implementing changes helped ease the transition stresses. Attending KRC's annual Sustainable Agriculture Roundups was another plus. The NRCS, the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, and other groups became active in sharing grazing information. We began to hear more and more about holistic management. Terms like "whole farm planning," "three-part goals," "gross profit analysis," and "testing guidelines" were being tossed out and caused acute discomfort to those hearing them. A good look at Allan Savory's book
Holistic Management didn't comfort us either.
Nonetheless, when an opportunity came through the Rural Center to attend a six-day training school in holistic management, several members of Flint Hills Graziers took advantage of it. This was part of an extended program of networking and self-teaching that connected people across the state. Two years after the training many of these connections are still viable.
By the spring of 1998, our group was feeling fairly confident that we had knowledge and experiences that we could share. A grazing school was held in Tampa that July. Over 60 participants gave the school overwhelming positive feedback. Participants stated that the most appreciated feature was actual producers sharing real life situations, rather than theorists saying how it should be done.
The cluster has continued to bring opportunities to members. That September several members toured southwest Kansas and visited the Noble Foundation in southern Oklahoma. The foundation has years of extensive research in grazing options, integrated holistic practices into their operation, and sharing the information with the public.
In early 1999, some members participated in Ranching for Profit training, and helped organize the Kansas Graziers Association, a network of graziers sharing information from around the state. Last year, the group altered its meeting format. Members were encouraged to select an area of interest, develop the program, and present it to the group. In January 2000, the group met to discuss extending the grazing season with the use of cover crops.
As the group progressed, the members began depending on each other, and developed a sense of helping each other- something that farmers seem to have lost over the years. "The best thing about the Graziers is all the different ideas I got from all the other people. I would never have started a MiG program without the support of like-minded individuals," stated Rick Hanschu. The Flint Hills Graziers cluster has accomplished much and touched many people since the group started six years ago. The group continues to explore new topics and to support one another, and to find new solutions for old problems.
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