TOOL BOX HELPS MEASURE SUCCESS FROM THE GROUND UP
LEWISTON, Minn. — For Mike and Jennifer Rupprecht, the success of their farming
enterprise near Lewiston isn’t just based on bushels of corn or pounds of beef
produced per acre. It goes much deeper than that.
“Our longer term goal is to keep building up the land and leave it in better
condition than how we found it,” said Mike recently. “That starts with the
The Rupprechts believe that how they care for their soil greatly affects not
only crop yields, but their ability to meet goals of being good stewards of the
land and making a comfortable living. So it was a real eye-opening experience
for the farm family when, in 1994, a core sample unearthed a piece of unpleasant
history: 48 inches of eroded topsoil lay at the bottom of one of their draws.
Would the controlled rotational grazing system and conservation tillage methods
the Rupprechts had adapted a few years before prevent such erosion and improve
These and other questions prompted the couple to team up with five other
like-minded farm families and a group of scientists to create the “Monitoring
Project.” For the past four years, this initiative, a joint project of the Land
Stewardship Project (LSP) and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable
Agriculture (MISA), has used the expertise of farmers, biologists, economists,
sociologists and government agency staff to develop common-sense, user-friendly
monitoring techniques. This project has gained a national reputation within the
past year for its unique integration of wildlife watching, soil testing, water
analysis, quality of life analysis and tracking of finances to create a
well-rounded system for measuring the success of a farm.
The monitoring methods developed by the team are based on the idea that the
state of one small aspect of the farm has a ripple effect on all other parts of
the operation, said Richard Ness, a staff member in LSP’s Lewiston office and
coordinator of the Monitoring Project. When taken as a whole, these measurements
provide an accurate picture of the real condition of the land and its people.
The Rupprechts, for example, know the presence of worms and other biological
activity in their soil says a lot ultimately about their farm’s profitability,
environmental sustainability and even the family’s quality of life.
“We kind of came at it from the soils perspective and then discovered birds and
went from there,” recalled Mike. “That was exciting.”
In hopes of spreading the excitement of whole-farm monitoring to others, the
team has developed The Monitoring Tool Box, which is now available to the
public. The primary intention of the Tool Box is to provide farm families as
well as other rural landowners and residents with a management tool to achieve
the goals they set for themselves, their land and their community, said Ness. It
does this by combining a solid scientific foundation with practical, farm-based
techniques that can be utilized by anyone in the field. For example, the guide
provides a step-by-step description of how to set up stream or bird monitoring
stations in a scientifically credible way. But it also gives instructions on how
to construct Mike Rupprecht’s homemade soil probe in 30 minutes using about $2
worth of materials.
Packaged in a three-ringed binder, this guide was developed in the field by the
Monitoring Project over a three-year period and has been tested by crop and
livestock farmers from throughout the Midwest. This 115-page guide covers the
monitoring of: quality of life, farm sustainability with financial data, birds,
frogs, soils and streams. In addition, the Monitoring Team has developed Close
to the Ground, a 24-minute companion video that describes how a team approach to
monitoring can bring energy and creativity to the process.
“Any business has certain things it keeps track of to make sure it’s on target
toward success,” said Ness. “But when it’s a complex enterprise like a farm,
management decisions have to be made not only based on the state of the
operation’s finances, but the health of its ecosystem and the quality of life
the people living there enjoy. That requires a monitoring system than takes in
the whole picture.”
For a copy of The Monitoring Tool Box, the Close to the Ground video and a
one-year subscription to a new Close to the Ground newsletter, send $35 ($31.50
for LSP members) to: Land Stewardship Project, P.O. Box 130, Lewiston, MN 55952.
Add $7 for shipping and handling. There are discounts for bulk orders. Call
(507) 523-3366 for more information.
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