EcoSun Prairie Farms is looking for owners and managers of farmland in eastern South Dakota, especially within 50 miles of Brookings, who would consider converting all or parts of their land to perennial grassland crops.  Restored prairie and wetlands can produce good income from the sale of seed, hay, and grass-fed beef as well as providing habitat for wildlife.  This conclusion is based on six years of production and economic data from its 500 acre working Prairie Farm near Colman, SD (see publication section of this web site for the details).  EcoSun is in the process of completing a business plan that would offer producers two options: consulting or land management/product marketing.  If interested, please contact EcoSun staff through this website.

New “Crop” of Prairie-Raised Beef

EcoSun now offers new choices in its prairie-raised beef business.  Check out our new web page and see the new offerings such as stew meat, bratwurst, t-bone steaks, and summer sausage.  All are new and terrific.  Customers tell us that this new crop of beef is the best they have tasted.  If you want to order or have questions, go to our beef web page to get contact information.  Hope to hear from you soon.  We deliver in Brookings, Sioux Falls and in nearby areas.  C. Johnson, March 24, 2014

GRASS-ONOMICS: Can Farming Grassland Pay Off?

No, we’re not growing and selling “weed” (marijuana), just real prairie grasses like big bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass. Last year (2012) marked the end of the 5-year trial period for the Prairie Farm. Could we successfully establish diverse and productive stands of grass on former cropland (itself established a century ago on former grassland!) and make a good living from the sale of grass products? Well, the sales and economic data are in……….and we have a positive story to tell. According to an independent agricultural economist, Dr. David Archer of the Agricultural Research Service, gross income from the Prairie Farm In year 5 (2012), during a century record drought, was about $140,000. The income was divided roughly evenly among 3 income streams: forage hay, native grass seed, and grass-fed beef. Most forage hay was sold to a hay buyer in Sioux Falls. Prices were good because hay supply was down in our area, and our drought-adapted, native grass produced very well. Our seed production (primarily switchgrass and prairie cord grass) was off a bit from wet years, but higher prices caused by low supply, more than made up for the lower yields in dry weather. We have sold about half of the 8,000 lbs. of grass-fed beef produced in 2012. Many individuals bought bundles and quarters. Two progressive markets in Sioux Falls (Natural Food Coop and Pomegranate Market) sell our burger, steaks, roasts, and certain specialty meats (beef bratwurst). Two restaurants offer meals using our beef, the Cottonwood Bistro in Brookings and Parkers in Sioux Falls (near the Pavillion). Dr. Archer figured that the profit in 2012 was about $60,000 (not factoring in land rent). So if a producer had a small farm the size of the Prairie Farm, and owned the land, our type of grass farming would generate a good income sufficient for a family of four. Once all of the land on the Prairie Farm is producing a peak rates, we think gross income could reach near $200,000. So Dr. Archer’s calculations give us hope that producers in our area could shift to perennial grass-based agriculture and make a living. Producers on smaller farms may have an alternative and not be stuck in the corn-soybean rotation cycle with high input costs.

Order tasty, healthy beef from EcoSun

We proudly announce this year’s offering of EcoSun Prairie-Raised Beef. Our delicious, lean and healthy beef can be ordered online by going to this website’s home page and clicking on the beef order icon.

Our beef comes from cattle that graze native grasses and forbs on carefully managed prairie pastures. We believe that an animal’s diet has a profound influence on the nutritional value of its products.

Grass-fed beef is one component of EcoSun’s commitment to creating and protecting a healthy environment and offering healthy food. These two objectives, healthy food and healthy land, compel the EcoSun mission and assure consumers that the beef products purchased from us are not only tasty and flavorful, but they are also good for you.

Our beef is not only available via online ordering, but it is or it will soon be available for purchase at Sioux Falls retail markets including Co-op Natural Foods and Pomegranate Market. Our beef products are enjoyed by diners at the Cottonwood Bistro restaurant in Brookings, and we are very excited to announce that Parker’s Bistro in downtown Sioux Falls will soon be offering EcoSun beef products.

Prairie and Wetland Losses to Grain Farming are Worrisome

What we’re doing at EcoSun farm is bucking a national trend. The conversion at EcoSun farm of corn and soybean fields back to native grasslands, healthy prairie and 30 wetlands is the exact opposite of what’s happening around us. Research shows that 23.7 million acres of grassland, wetlands and shrub land in the United States were converted to grain-growing fields between 2008 and 2011. Of the 23.7 million acres, more than 8.4 million were planted to corn, more than 5.6 million raised soybeans, and nearly 5.2 million grew winter wheat. Some of the most extensive and widespread conversion of grasslands to grain-growing ground occurred in South Dakota. In both Dakotas, more than 3.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat were destroyed between 2008 and 2011. Experts estimate that 1.4 million small wetlands in the eastern Dakotas, which are especially important for breeding ducks, are at high risk of being drained, and this could result in breeding duck populations dropping by more than one-third. Replacing wetlands and grasslands with crops such as corn has secondary effects, including polluting nearby rivers and lakes by eliminating buffers that filter farm runoff and by increasing the use of fertilizers and chemicals. From 1965 to 2010 the use of nitrogen fertilizer on U.S. corn crops nearly doubled to 140 pounds per acre, according to USDA. Without wetlands or grasslands to filter runoff, much more of those nutrients washes into streams, ultimately polluting waterways, destroying fisheries and increasing the cost of purifying drinking water.

We think that EcoSun’s approach to agriculture –growing perennial, tallgrass prairie without using inorganic fertilizers, and the infrequent and sparse use of biocides, and then marketing products yielded by tallgrass- is sustainable, ecological and profitable.

Tour featured fellowship and information

Staff and board members from EcoSun Prairie Farm hosted about fifty visitors for our annual tour on August 3rd.  The weather was warm, and beautiful clouds swarmed about the sky.  EcoSun farm is certainly feeling the impacts of pronounced heat and drought, but our perennial grasses are holding up impressively.  Visitors were surprised at the prodigious growth and health of the prairie. They traveled across the farm and learned about biodiversity, our cattle herd, wetlands, grasslands, and our marketing plans. We brought three special guests to address our three primary marketing and sales pursuits: seed, hay, and prairie-raised beef. Paul McGill, owner of Rock Valley Hay Auction, Travis Petersen, meat department manager at The Co-Op Natural Foods store in Sioux Falls, and Matt Fenske of Millborn Seeds spoke about their respective specialties.  Board members speaking during the tour were Drs. Carter Johnson,  and Arvid Boe.  Farm manager Craig Novotny and livestock researcher Cody Zilverberg  also spoke.  Thanks to those who attended, and thanks also to the newspapers, blogs, organizations, and radio and television stations that helped us publicize the tour.  The Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper and the Dakota Farmer magazine sent journalists, and we appreciate their extra effort in reporting about our special farm.

Click on the image below for a better look at the farm.

Visitors to EcoSun farm toured healthy tallgrass prairie and listened to speakers describe our farming practices and our marketing objectives.


Come see how we’re restoring and expanding prairie

Renowned writer William Least Heat Moon once described prairie as a misunderstood and unappreciated ecosystem. He also labeled it “the center of our national identity.”

It is understandably difficult for contemporary Americans to appreciate the aesthetic and biological values of this vital and defining landscape because Least Heat Moon’s so-called “national identity” is nearly extinct.

That unfortunate characterization –nearly extinct- especially applies to tallgrass prairie. Over 99% of the original tallgrass prairie has been plowed and is now cultivated farmland.

America’s tallgrass prairie once extended across the Midwest from what is now the eastern Dakotas to Ohio, and covered most of what we now call the corn belt. It was a vast, prodigious ecosystem that greeted our country’s earliest settlers journeying westward. It dominated what has become the middle of our nation.

Stands of native grass could be impassable, higher than a human, and once mantled the land so densely it appeared as if a beautifully patterned abstract painting had been stretched to the horizon.

Categorizing a landscape as being nearly extinct is a tragic pronouncement, but in the case of tallgrass prairie it is, unfortunately, an accurate one.

Restoring and preserving tallgrass prairie is also bold and ambitious, but at EcoSun Prairie Farm we view this undertaking as essential. Our philosophy is to put prairie to work in order to preserve and protect it.

This underappreciated and misunderstood landscape has mostly been eliminated in order to grow other plants. We are proving that native perennial prairie plants have worthwhile, commercial value, and that growing native prairie plants is better for the natural environment than growing those plants that replaced native prairie, such as corn and soybeans.

We agree with Least Heat Moon that prairie is an important part of our national identity. That’s one reason it is important to restore tallgrass prairie. And that’s what we’re doing at EcoSun farm.

On Friday, August 3rd, starting at 1:00, we are hosting a tour of EcoSun Prairie Farm. You’re invited to visit and learn what we do to restore and expand tallgrass prairie. We will present a variety of speakers, including marketing experts relevant to the products we produce to earn money at our grass farm.

EcoSun farm is located near Colman, South Dakota, about midway between Brookings and Sioux Falls.

To find the farm from Interstate 29, take Exit 114, the Flandreau exit. Travel west on 230th Street for about 3.5 miles (2 miles past the junction with Highway 77) to 469th Avenue. Signs will direct you the remainder of the way. Parking areas will be marked.

We hope to see you at EcoSun farm on Friday.

EcoSun Prairie Farm is a noisy place!

 One of the most noticeable features of EcoSun farm is the diverse natural sounds that fill the air.  Before we grassed down this land and restored its 30 ponds and sloughs this place was mostly quiet, and the function of what grew here –corn and soybeans- kept things that way.  But now the sounds of many birds, insects and amphibians can be almost deafening. It’s exactly how a healthy prairie should sound. There’s an almost magical musical soundtrack to the work and research that happens here. It’s hard not to stop doing what you’re doing and try to comprehend and identify the incredible variety of natural sounds you hear. Farm manager Craig Novotny has reported that the populations of amphibians on the farm are truly impressive. He was especially excited about the large number of frog species.  Other visitors excitedly talk about the bird life found on the farm. One species that is prospering is the Bobolink, and their healthy numbers on our prairie farm reflect a healthy landscape. A recent bird survey revealed what we already know: Bird life is abundant on the prairie farm.

Here’s an update on the upcoming prairie farm tour.  We will host this tour on August 3rd, starting at 1 pm.  One of the featured discussion points of the tour will be how we are earning income on the prairie farm, including a look at the three primary income streams –hay, beef and seeds- that we pursue. 

We’ll include more information about the tour next week, including directions.

EcoSun Farm tour to be held Friday, August 3rd at 1:00 pm

By Peter Carrels, EcoSun Marketing and Outreach Manager

 EcoSun Prairie Farm has multi-dimensional objectives, including profitability and sustainability of natural resources. The genuine pursuit of accomplishing these objectives is what makes our farm so special.  We are completely dedicated to protecting the natural characteristics of land and water resources while generating a reasonable income from growing, utilizing and harvesting plants that benefit our society. Ours is an ecological approach to agriculture. This is the foundation of our farming philosophy and our approach to stewardship. 

Sustainability is more than a catch-word or slogan at EcoSun Prairie Farms. Our team embraces the challenges of land restoration and growing useful plants that yield a profit, but with minimal environmental impacts.  Our exceptional products –including high-quality hay, seed, and lean, healthy beef- are the result of our belief that healthy land produces healthy food and a healthy future.

We do not envision our style of farming as one that remains relegated to a small niche.  Our goal is to continually prove our relevance and place in the farming community and to expand our idea to other farms in our region. We invite inquiries and welcome the chance to discuss what we’re doing.  On August 3, 2012 starting at 1:00 pm we host a tour of our farm.  We are located near Colman, South Dakota, and we would love to show you what we’re up to.  We’ll provide more information and directions soon. In the meantime, mark your calendar. We look forward to sharing our story with you.