MALTA, Mont. – On the northern High Plains in Phillips County, Anna and Cliff Merriman operate 4M Farms, an organic dryland grain farm and cow/calf operation, along with a smattering of other livestock.
The Merrimans have two children, Courtney, 11, and Beau, 9. They have been homeschooled since October 2020, but will attend Malta Grade School in the fall.
“We named it 4M Farms because there are four of us and we didn’t want our operation to carry our last name in case our daughter wanted to take over,” Anna said. “It’s also our livestock brand, as well.”
Anna and Cliff farm and ranch together on the gentle rolling hills of northern Montana.
This spring, Anna has been busy pre-tilling, running a chisel shallowly through the soil, while Cliff follows behind with the air seeder.
“Because we are organic, we pre-till our acres to suppress the weeds before we seed. Hopefully, our crop emerges before the weeds,” she said.
Seeding with the Seedmaster air drill, Cliff says they’re growing organic mustard, safflower, spring wheat and malting barley this spring.
4M Farms began in 2012, when Anna and Cliff had an opportunity to purchase the organic farm.
They met with Mark Bruckner, who operated the organic farm and wanted to sell his place to a young couple.
“We put in an offer and he accepted it,” Cliff said.
They received a down payment loan through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and purchased farm equipment with an FSA loan.
The Merrimans both have farm and ranch backgrounds.
Anna grew up on the family ranch, which was started by her grandparents, Leo, Sr., and Mary Emily Barthelmess, when they moved to the operation in the early 1960s.
Anna graduated from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., with an associate’s degree in business. She then transferred to Montana State University in Billings, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business. Follow graduation, she began working with Computers Unlimited in 2006 in Billings.
After one year, she was able to work from home and retain her position at the company, while she and Cliff moved to Nevada, and later, Wibaux.
“It was great to work from home and be able to take care of my family at the same time,” Anna said.
Cliff grew up in Texas on the farm/ranch of his parents, Julie and Kelly Merriman. He graduated from Tarleton State University with a degree in agronomy and range management. He began his internship as a range technician for the BLM in Malta where he met Anna.
Anna and Cliff married in 2008 while Cliff was a rangeland specialist for the BLM in Nevada.
Later, Cliff became a rangeland management specialist for the NRCS in Wibaux. From Wibaux, he took a position as a district conservationist for the NRCS in Blaine County for a few years.
But Cliff and Anna always wanted to farm and ranch.
“Owning my own farm and ranch, growing my own crops and livestock, is something I have always wanted,” Cliff said.
In addition, the land they lease for crops has also been certified through the Montana Department of Agriculture.
“All our acres were certified organic when we purchased the farm, and we have converted all our lease acres to certified organic, as well,” Anna said.
In addition to crops, the couple enjoys raising an array of livestock.
The Merrimans have committed to conservation and grazing practices that improve the soil throughout their farm/ranch and preserve the land for future generations.
They are running yearlings out on the Matador Ranch in Phillips County under a conservation lease arrangement.
Cliff explained that in the early 2000s, the Nature Conservancy purchased the Matador Ranch and partnered with local ranchers in the county.
“We are in a sage grouse priority area, and with a prescribed grazing plan with the NRCS, we are seeding 600 acres back to grass to improve the soil and address perennial weed issues,” he said.
The effort manages grazing land in a way that revitalizes the grassland on their operation for the future, and enhances sage grouse habitat.
The Merrimans also have a five-year Conservation Stewardship Program contract with the NRCS, where the NRCS assists them with conservation objectives.
They are seeding cover crops for their cattle to graze and for soil health.
“We are seeding some acres with a cover crop mix of peas, millet, barley and oats,” he said.
They are finishing up calving for the year, and their cow/calf pairs are out on grazing ground.
“We are still supplementing hay,” Cliff said.
The busy family also raises 4-H pigs for the kids in the area, and they also own a boar and a sow for the market 4-H pigs. In addition, the Merrimans have a few goats – and turkeys.
“This is our first year raising turkeys. We have purchased 10 turkeys to see how it goes,” Cliff said.
Meanwhile, the Merrimans are hoping for more moisture, especially for good germination.
“We didn’t have much for snow melt this spring, and we are short on moisture,” Anna said.
The Merrimans are members of the Montana Organic Association (MOA) and Cliff is the vice chair.
This year, the Merrimans will host the MOA tour on their farm July 6, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the tour please visit the website online at https://montanaorganicassociation.org/events/list/.
“We’re inviting those interested to our farm tour on July 6,” Cliff concluded.