HAVRE, Mont. — The warm sunny days of late spring — along with timely rain showers — are providing the right environment for the new crops to emerge from the soil, green and hardy, across the farm fields at Vilicus Farms.
“We got another .25 inches of rain last night which was very welcome,” said Anna Jones-Crabtree, who farms with her husband, Doug Crabtree, in north central Montana. They farm with Ben Clark, farm agrarian, who works with the crops, and Paul Neubauer, farm foreman, who works with custom grazing.
Paul was also happy to see the rain so the cattle will have nice custom grazing grass.
“As far as weather goes we had very good moisture in the soil from the rain we got during the last half of May and that seemed to hold us over for a while. Crops came up nicely and have been doing well,” Paul said.
Topsoil moisture conditions were beginning to dry before the most recent rain events.
“The rain came right on time. We received rain on Saturday (June 6), and today (June 8) it is raining on and off. Hopefully, we will receive more moisture,” he said.
North of Havre, the wind has been strong most days, and “we are still having relatively cool nights, even with warmer days at times. “
“So far our high temperature has been about 80 degrees, which makes for really pleasant working conditions,” Paul added.
The growing season is looking more promising each day as all the crops seem to have had good germination and stands.
“Crops overall are looking better then they have in several years. We are keeping our fingers crossed,” Anna said.
On the farm, several projects are going on at one time.
The crews finished seeding buckwheat, the last crop to go in. The week before, they finished seeding the warm season cover crops.
Anna and Doug spent nearly a week helping another organic farmer seed crops.
“We spent almost a week doing some custom work for another organic farmer to help them get their crops into the ground,” Anna said.
According to Paul, some 26 cow/calf pairs arrived on the farm for the custom grazing project on June 4. Electric fencing was set up to keep the cattle grazing on the forage they wanted them to graze.
“We are custom grazing some pairs for a rancher whose place is further south,” Paul said.
The custom grazing agreement means the rancher will pay for the use of the grass, as well as the management and care of the cows.
“I’ve been busy fixing fence, along with some other employees, getting this area ready for the cattle,” he said. “It has been a while since any of the fence was maintained.”
They moved the cattle to some pasture close to farm headquarters, and then on to crop ground.
“After grazing the pasture, we moved the cows on to the sweet clover that we seeded as a green manure cover crop,” Paul said.
Paul will be monitoring the cows’ growth and development as they graze.
“We may move them on to rangeland, or another green manure cover crop that we have, if they need more growth. It will probably be the forage barley and forage pea mix that was seeded first this spring,” he added.
They are also constructing the base for a double-wall fuel tank system to be installed later this week. That way, they can have fuel for their farm machines without driving to town each time.
The Crabtrees are very involved with internships on their farm.
“One of our interns will arrive this Saturday,” Anna said.
Anna and Doug have a beginning organic farmer apprenticeship program and an intern program to support the establishment of new organic farmers in the Northern Great Plains.
Apprentices and interns work side-by-side with the Crabtrees on the Vilicus Farms, learning production, farm management, soil health, equipment maintenance and more.
“We take a holistic management approach to our farm, and that is something we share with our apprentices. After the program, the apprentices and interns can work here or go on to work on another farm, but either way, we support their efforts,” she added.
For the 2020 season, they do not have any apprentices — but they will have interns.
“We will be hosting three short-term interns who may become apprentices in future years. They are coming from New York, Connecticut, and California,” Anna said.
Anna and Doug realize that interns and apprentices need help learning and working in organic farming and agriculture. It is no different than being an ag instructor, but they also hope to ignite an intern’s passion about agriculture so that they want to make a career of it.
“We continue to be very excited about working with the next generation of agrarians. This has not been easy work,” she said. “It takes patience to be a mentor. But the rewards of supporting someone to grow an actual career in agriculture in a way that is mutually beneficial for our operation is tremendous.”
Meanwhile, the crews drove the farm machines for planting to the shops for maintenance and cleaning.
“Seeders are being moved to the shop to be cleaned and put away for the season,” she said.
They now plan to begin manure hauling.
“We have a shared arrangement with a neighbor who has winter feeding pens. The manure is hauled to the end of our cover crop strips to be spread later this summer prior to cover crop termination,” she said. “It is all part of our soil building system.”
Anna said she and Doug are involved in every project on the farm, whether it be planting, deciding on rotations, organizing the day-to-day projects and helping those that come to work on their farm to learn.
“We believe if you want things to be better you have to show up and engage. We envision a world where there are many more young people seeing the opportunities that exist in agriculture,” Anna said. “That means we have to work to create a system that works better for everyone. Farms provide so much more then a commodity. They can help nourish our communities, take care of our water, air and soil resources, and feed us. We hope that sharing our story in some small way inspires others to go for it where they are or potentially, come be partners with us.
For more on Vilicus Farms, see their webpage at https://vilicusfarms.com.