ELGIN, N.D. – The farms tucked beneath bluffs with layers of rose and tan rock in the southwestern/south central region of the state close to the South Dakota border are marked by rolling hills, and wide valleys, perfect for raising crops and cattle.
Here, Clarence Laub III farms with his dad, Clarence Jr.
The two have finished calving and are ready to start planting. They hoped to start seeding the last week in April, but a cold front with a rain/snow mix came through the area on April 27.
The cold, wet weather is expected to last a few days, and as soon as the soil dries, they will begin seeding.
This year, the Laubs are growing oats for hay, spring wheat, sunflowers, corn, cover crops for late fall grazing and industrial hemp. The cover crops help increase plant diversity for soil health, as well as being beneficial to the cattle operation.
“We put in a five-to-eight species mix of cover crops in early and late May,” Clarence said. “At the end of July, we’ll take the cover crop off for hay, and then let it regrow. No matter what the weather is, certain species will regrow and be nice for the cows for fall grazing.”
Clarence is well known as one of the first four producers in the state to grow industrial hemp under the state’s pilot program in 2016. He has continued to grow hemp every year since, and purchases a North Dakota license every year to do so.
“The last two years, the state has charged per acre, and that got to be expensive. This year, it is a flat fee to get a state license to grow hemp,” he said.
Clarence, Jr., and Sandra (Wutzke) Laub have four children – three daughters, Jenney, Jane and Jess - and one son.
“My three sisters are all older than me,” Clarence said.
The center of the farm is a beautiful, large grey farm house with lots of windows, larger than most families with six kids have.
“All my Mom every wanted was a nice house. After a tornado destroyed a lot of our farm buildings in 2011, my dad fulfilled his promise and built the house she designed,” Clarence said.
In addition to the large farm house, the Laubs built a new red barn next to it. Farm headquarters are located down a short hill to a beautiful, green landscape in spring.
Right out in front of their farm house, Clarence planted his first field of industrial hemp. That was back before the Farm Bill deregulated hemp, when no one else could touch the seed but the farmer.
In years since, they have been able to grow hemp in other fields. The state Department of Agriculture has held field days at the Laub’s hemp field, and Clarence has shown other producers how to grow hemp. The crop has been de-mystified since that first year.
Clarence III is the fifth-generation to farm in this region.
His great-great grandparents came over from Russiain the early 1900s and settled in the Heil area. “Through the generations, there were siblings who would take over the main family farm, and other siblings would purchase other farms and start their own operation,” he said.
Clarence’s mom, Sandra, grew up on a farm about a half-mile away from the Laub’s current farm.
“My grandpa and uncle farmed over there where my mom grew up, and I am starting to farm some of those acres now, as well,” he said.
Clarence, Jr., bought the current farm in 1977. Before buying the farm, he taught high school history and physical education in Killdeer.
Clarence III always liked farming and he was set on his career in agriculture since early on.
“My first job on the farm was raking hay, then I moved up to cutting hay and by the time I was a teen, I was doing field work, planting, and helping harvest,” he said. “I always liked being outdoors - the fact that I could feel free out in the farm fields and pastures. I could go to town if I liked, and my town friends could come out here. It was great.”
When his dad first bought the farm he had a few cattle and some 200 head of sheep.
Clarence decided to purchase some cows to buy into the Angus cattle operation when he was in high school, and the family decided to sell the sheep. The Laubs became a commercial Angus operation and now have about 300 cows.
After graduating high school, Clarence earned a degree in agronomy at Bismarck State College. During summers at college, he interned with New Horizons Ag working with producers as a crop consultant, scouting their fields and helping them plan which herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to use.
With his degree in hand, Clarence worked in Elgin as a sales agronomist for Wilbur Ellis.
Now he is back on the farm full-time, and eventually will take over the farm/ranch from his dad.
“We don’t have a lot of free time off on the farm. We start with calving; move into planting, then branding, moving cows to pastures, haying, and harvesting,” he said, with a laugh.
The Laubs began calving in March.
While the month started out cold, the weather warmed up, and temperatures were nice enough in mid-March that the cows could calve outside.
The cow/calf pairs first graze in an early spring pasture that is only used at that time of year while planting goes on. After planting, the family brands and vaccinates the calves and the pairs are moved out to summer pastures around June 1.
“As we go into corn harvest, that will be the last field they will graze before winter. The cows really like the corn fields, and will eat cob that the combine doesn’t pick up,” Clarence added.
In March, Clarence and his dad started working on farm machines, doing routine maintenance on them – greasing and changing oil, checking the tires and making sure all the parts worked.
“We’re ready to go as soon as the cold passes and the soil warms up,” he said.