Nathan (left) and Lynn Hovde

When people think about agriculture today, they envision the American Gothic painting,” says Lynn Hovde, a third-generation cattle producer. That simple image of a farmer with a pitchfork in hand, standing next to his wife in front of their modest farmhouse, is really a far cry from what modern agriculture production entails, Hovde says. “The average consumer doesn’t understand that what are family businesses have also become big businesses in terms of how complex the operations are and how we care for our land and livestock.”

Lynn and his wife Patti, along with their son Nathan and his family, operate a diversified operation in western North Dakota that includes a commercial cow herd, a 950-head backgrounding lot and more than 6,000 acres of owned and leased grazing and farm land.

To help dispel some of the myths that surround modern-day agriculture, Hovde has made his operation available as a tourist stop for guests that frequent a local bed and breakfast. “I do what I can to promote agriculture,” he says. “These are not your typical tourists, as they really want to get the feel for a community and its culture. We give them a chance to see agriculture up close.”

Hovde says the guests have come from as far away as the East Coast and even some from overseas to visit the nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park. According to Hovde, the visitors are always amazed at the complexity of the Hovdes’ farming operation. During the tours, Hovde says he always tries to impress upon the visitors the technology and management skills that are necessary to the success of his business.

The Hovde Ranch is a perfect showcase for not only modern production practices but also how important conservation efforts are in a successful operation. The business was recognized as the Environmental Stewardship Award Region VII winner in 2008. The award, which is administered by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation and sponsored by Dow AgroSciences LLC, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is in its 19th year.

 Hovde’s operation gained recognition for its full-circle approach to production. The cow-calf enterprise supplies calves for the backgrounding lot. Feedlot waste is incorporated back into crop production. Water runoff is filtered through grass buffers and sediment ponds before it enters a 100-acre-foot holding pond that in turn provides water for livestock and waterfowl habitat.

 Hovde says that his water development projects, including the holding pond, have more than paid for themselves. “Our annual precipitation is normally 14 to 15 inches, but this last year it didn’t total much more than 4 inches,” he says. “The water development projects meant that we had adequate drinking water for our cattle in all of our pastures last year, when some of our neighbors were hauling water.”

The ranch has also employed an intensive grazing program that includes 20 pastures ranging in size from 40 to 320 acres. “Using this strategy has allowed us to increase our stocking rates and improve the rangeland tremendously,” Hovde says. “It has helped us be more timely in grazing particular grass species and enhancing forage production.”

In addition to forage and grain crops that supply a large proportion of feed for the backgrounding lot, the farm also grows spring wheat, malting barley and safflower as cash crops.

The Hovdes’ operation exemplifies what modern farming and ranching is all about — finding new and better ways to improve upon time-honored traditions. The Hovde family’s willingness to share that philosophy with the general public helps put a face behind food production, and his desire to spread an accurate portrayal of agricultural production is a benefit to the entire industry.