Preparing a Resilient Future

A farmer and his child walk through a wheat field

TRAINING IN 2023-2024

Stay tuned for future OARS sessions in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming as well as additional sessions in Montana and Nebraska through 2023 and 2024. 

Being a certified organic small grains and livestock farmer or rancher is a significant challenge in the semi-arid dryland cropping and grazing lands of the northern Grain Plains. Programs that help beginning farmers tend to focus on organic specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and flowers. Only about 25% of USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development (BFRD) programs train and educate beginning farmers to focus on commodity field crops such as, wheat, barley, lentils, chickpeas, dry peas and beans, oilseeds, and livestock. 

The National Center for Appropriate Technology is leading a regional partnership, funded through the USDA BFRD program, to help more than 300 beginning farmers and ranchers across the Northern Great Plains explore the value, viability, and resilience of raising organic field crops. 

The Montana Organic Association, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, Center for Rural Affairs, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, International Organic Inspectors Association, North Dakota State, and University of Wyoming are providing a supporting role to this effort. 

Unlike most programs focused on beginning farmers and ranchers, this project targets medium to large-scale field crop and livestock operations. This project is unique in that it will help beginning farmers and ranchers fully explore the economic and productive viability of organic systems in this region. We also will open this exploration to the communities of this vast region. Specifically, NCAT and several partner organizations will present a total of 10 Organic Academy Roadshows (OARS) over the next two years in the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming. In addition, the project team will host intensive training sessions, one-on-one technical assistance, and on-farm workshops and tours. 

This section is intended for beginning farmers and ranchers who have participated in the Preparing a Resilient Future project for exploring organic small grains and livestock production. You’ll find information about the project, scheduled trainings, and more. 

Why Small Grains, Oilseeds, Pulses, and Livestock?

Interest in growing organic small grains and other field crops in the Northern Great Plains is on the rise, and lucrative markets for these crops are expanding. 

Research shows that organic vegetable and specialty crop growers are meeting the national demand in the U.S. because there’s a net export of their products. At the same time, organically grown field crops are being imported into the U.S. at stable and sometimes increasing rates. 

The Northern Great Plains is the number one organic wheat- and pulse-producing states in the country. Organic farmers and ranchers in this region are uniquely positioned to provide education as well as opportunities to meet, learn, collaborate, mentor, do business, and more. 

Bringing in the Community

NCAT and the project collaborators will host intensive training sessions, one-on-one technical assistance, and on-farm workshops and tours. The training will be conducted in day and half sessions. Importantly, experienced organic farmers and ranchers are some of the lead trainers in this project.   

In addition to the farmers and ranchers taking part, the sessions will include other members of their agricultural communities, including civic leaders, county Extension agents and officials from USDA agencies such as the Farm Service Administration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

That outreach is vital as support for the beginning farmers and ranchers and to introduce organic farming and ranching to the agricultural community in their area. 

Importance of Diversity

Since 2013, NCAT has supported more than 900 military veteran farmers through its Armed to Farm intensive training programs around the country. 

In addition, NCAT and the Montana Organic Association have undertaken many training workshops that have included tribal members, who make up about 2 percent of all new beginning farmers in the Northern Great Plains. 

That emphasis on diversity will be reflected in the Preparing a Resilient Future project, which will include at least 50 veteran, limited-resource, tribal, and socially disadvantaged participants. 

Organic Academy Roadshow Details

Join us December 6-7 at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

Agenda, Dec. 6-7

December 6, 2022

  • Noon- 1:00 p.m.: Buffet luncheon: Welcome and outline of program: Jeff Schahczenski
  • 1:00 to 1:30 p.m.: BREAK
  • 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Interactive “World Café” session. Question is: Why are you interested in becoming an organic farmer/rancher? This will be a facilitated discussion at each round table. A notetaker will be designated a notetaker and one person will summarize answers to the whole group after about 40 minutes of discussion.
  • 2:30 to 4:00 p.m.: An Organic Story: Doug and Anna Jones-Crabtree will present on Vilicus Farms.
  • 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.: WRAP up for the day. Attendees encouraged to attend public community night which will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the same location.
  • 5:30-6:00 p.m.:  Light dinner buffet, cash bar.
  • 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.: Community Night. Jeff Schahczenski will present: The Great, Good and Bad of Organic Farming and Ranching in Montana.  

December 7, 2022

  • 7:00 -8:30 a.m.: Breakfast on your own
  • 8:30-9:00 a.m.: Review days’ agenda and goals and logistic issues, Jeff Schahczenski
  • 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.: “Introduction to the Organic System Plan,” by Margaret Scoles, Executive Director, International Organic Inspectors Association. Becky Weed will moderate.
  • 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.: “Tillage Intensity Rotations and the Organic Pathway to Permanent Soil Health” by Nate Powell Palm, Organic Grain, Pulse and Oilseed producer Gallatin County, Montana. Anna Jones-Crabtree will moderate
  • 11:30 to 12:00 p.m: General Open Session of Questions
  • 12:00 to 1:30 p.m: Lunch buffet
  • 1:30 to 3:30 p.m: “Organic Grass-finished Ruminant Production,” by Jess Algers (beef) and Becky Weed (lamb and wool).  Jess Algers, organic farmer and rancher, Alger Ranch, Stanford and Becky Weed, Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool Company, Gallatin County, Montana. Jeff Schahczenski will moderate 
  • 3:30 to 4:30 p.m: “Federal Resources to make the Transition to an Organic Production System” by Jeff Schahczenski, Agriculture and Natural Resource Economist, National Center for Appropriate Technology. Doug Crabtree will moderate
  • 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.: Wrap-up, post evaluation survey, introduction to the networking system

Speaker Bios

Jess Algers pictured with his dog.Jess Algers, Alger Ranch

Jess grew up on a family Ranch North of Stanford.

He graduated MSU Bozeman with a B.S. Degree in Animal Science in 1971.

Jess artificially inseminated the cows for a few years. He tried his hand at team roping with a one-eyed team roping horse. The crops he grew in those years were: alfalfa, barley, winter wheat and sweet clover for hay.

In 1981 due to his dad’s health problems the folks sold him the ranch.

In 1996 Jess bought a 100-foot sprayer and started custom spraying for neighbors. It seemed to him that the more chemicals they wanted added to the mix, the more weeds they had. It was the same on his place—the more chemicals he used, the more weeds he had.

In 2000 Jess began the process of organic certification and was fully certified by 2004.  In 2006 he did everything right to get the cows certified organic except the mineral and salt. Yellow food coloring and non-organic filler were not approved. In 2007 he used Redmond Salt #4 and New Life Mineral and was approved for full organic certification.

He rotates his cattle through 39 pastures over the course of a year. This current year (2022) he grew: Kamut, emmer, winter wheat, peas, Kernza, and cover crops for the cattle. He planted Rye for fall and spring grazing.

Anna and Jeff CrabtreeAnna and Doug Crabtree, Vilicus Farms

Anna and her husband Doug own and manage Vilicus Farms, a first generation, organic, 12,508-acre dryland crop farm in Northern Hill County, Montana growing a diverse array of organic heirloom and specialty grain, pulse, oilseed, and broadleaf crops under five and seven-year rotations. In fourteen seasons, Vilicus Farms grew from 1,280 acres to be a nationally recognized farm by using USDA’s beginning farmer programs, employing extensive conservation practices, and fostering unique risk sharing relationships with food companies and land investment firms. Over 26% of their land is in non-crop conservation and 400 acres seeded to native pollinator habitat. Annually they seed over 3,000 acres of cover crops and use integrated grazing. Vilicus Farms became Bee Better certified in 2019, Real Organic Project Certified in 2019 and has been transitioning towards Demeter Biodynamic certification.

Vilicus Farms offers the only structured organic grain farming apprenticeship in the U.S. with the vision of incubating new organic agricultural enterprises. They have hosted 14 apprentices, many interns and more farm campers than can be counted. Three new agrarian enterprises are under incubation at Vilicus Farms: a grazing operation integrated into the cropping system, an organic seed production operation, and a value-added rye enterprise.

Vilicus Training Institute (VTI) launched in 2015 to inspire increased scope and scale of organic land management across the Northern Great Plains. VTI is a not-for-profit learning laboratory that cultivates collaborations enabling both new organic land stewards and the circumstances that support their prosperous stability. VTI is a founding board member of the Montana Agrarian Commons. Projects include mapping risk/reward sharing mechanisms so they can be equitably aligned in the organic crop supply chains, documenting pathways for incubation of new at scale agrarian enterprises, developing organic grain farming apprenticeship curriculum and implementing associative economy principles to enable farm viability.

Anna is a Donella Meadows Leadership Fellow and a recipient of the White House Greening Government Sustainability Hero Award. She holds a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a minor in Sustainable Systems from Georgia Institute of Technology. Anna served on the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Council on Beginning Farmers & Ranchers. She currently serves on the Xerces Society Bee Better Advisory Board, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT’s Board of Directors, and the Biodynamic Alliance’s Economy Advisory Board. Given the realities of farming, Anna still has an off-farm job with the USDA Forest Service. After several decades fostering more sustainable operations she is now currently serving as the Director for Data Governance for the Northern Region.

Doug serves as Board Member of the Organic Trade Association and the past Board Chair of the Montana Organic Association. He also manages crop contracts for the Montana Organic Producers Cooperative.  Prior to launching the farm Doug managed the State of Montana’s Organic Certification Program. He has worked as an organic inspector, agricultural researcher and farm manager. Doug holds a B.S. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University and a M.S. Agronomy from South Dakota State University.

Anna, Doug, and their three Jack Russell Terriers, are avid members of the Lentil Underground (http://lentilunderground.com/).

Nate Powell-Palm, Cold Springs Organics

Nate Powell-Palm landed in the world of certified organic farming when he successfully became the youngest farmer in the country to achieve organic certification. Since 2008 Powell-Palm has grown his operation from 10 leased acres to over 1,000 acres raising crops that include organic wheat, pulses (for certified seed), flax (for seed) and cattle. As a nationally renowned entrepreneur, Powell-Palm was recognized with the Organic Trade Association’s 2019 rising star award. That same year Powell-Palm testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, advocating for policy that recognizes sustainable agriculture’s positive impact on rural communities.

In 2020 Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue appointed Powell-Palm to the farmer seat on the National Organic Standards Board, the youngest appointee in the board’s history. In 2021, Powell-Palm was elected unanimously by his board peers to serve as the youngest ever elected Chair of the National Organic Standards Board. In addition to his farm, Cold Springs Organics, LLC, Powell-Palm is a founding member of the consulting firm Organic Integrity Cooperative Guild.

Jeff Schahczenski, NCAT

Jeff Schahczenski is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology. His work includes publication of studies and education on crop insurance, conservation, national agriculture public policy, transgenics (genetically modified organisms), blockchain agriculture supply-chain management, soil health, biochar, and the role of agriculture in climate disruption. He was a past elected member of the Organizational Council of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Executive Director of the Big Hole River Foundation, and the Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (WSAWG). He also has served as an adjunct instructor at Montana Technological University, Montana Western University, and the University of Montana.

Jeff has built his own straw bale house and greenhouse. He raises poultry and has been a commercial beekeeper. Before moving to Montana in 1991, Jeff worked for Rutgers University, started one of the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms in New Jersey, received graduate degrees in agricultural economics and political science, served in the Peace Corps in Belize, Central America, and worked many summers on his grandfather’s dairy farm in Wisconsin.

In 2021, Jeff wrote two funded proposals valued at $2.7 million. These two regional projects include this project with beginning farmers and ranchers in the northern Great Plains (MT, NE, ND, SD, and WY) on transitioning to organic grain farming. Jeff also is co-director of a project led by Montana State University working with the Southwest and Northern plains USDA Climate Hubs focused on issues of climate disruption and crop insurance.

He has red Angus cow-calf pairs and after he weans the calves, he keeps them for 18 months to two years. He has been selling them to Panorama Meats in Brush, CO, and Montana Premium Processing Co-op will be butchering the beef by middle of November this year. He also will sell some of his beef locally.

Margaret ScolesMargaret Scoles, International Organic Inspectors Association

Margaret Scoles is the Executive Director of the International Organic Inspectors Association, maintaining the office in Broadus, Montana since 1999. She has more than 30 years of inspection experience, teaching inspector training courses, and mentoring inspectors. She holds a B.S. in Agriculture from the University of Arizona.

She grew up on a small ranch and returned to the family ranch in 1981 to help her grandmother stay on her land, raising a family and large garden. She and her husband have been operating a cow-calf operation in Powder River Country for 40 years. She currently serves on the board of IFOAM North America. She received the 2018 OTA Organic Leadership Award.

Becky WeedBecky Weed, Rancher

Becky Weed raises sheep in southwest Montana. She and her husband Dave Tyler have been operating Thirteen Mile Farm for over 35 years, combining livestock operations, a wool mill (now sold to a former employee), and currently working with a group of younger farmers to build some long-term mechanisms for rotations between cropping and livestock, and seeking new ways to provide land access. Becky worked as a geologist for many years and carries that perspective into all of her efforts in agriculture.