Since 1995, Ron and Kathy Holter have made major changes on their 207 acres in the rolling Appalachian foothills of west central Maryland, land that has been farmed by 5 generations of Holters. "If the Lord had thrown all of it at me at once, I would have said 'no way,'" Ron says. The way Ron tells it, though, the saga unfolded as naturally as could be.
It started in the winter of '95 when Ron took a farm management class sponsored by the county extension service. "They said farmers aren't thinking anymore. We're just doing what the industry tells us to do. The only way to get out of that is to start thinking outside the box." The extension agent who taught the class was a big supporter of pasture-based farming. He talked about grazing and showed some slides. "I thought it was too good to be true," Ron says, "but I also thought it seemed right. I wanted that for my farm."
Come spring of '95, all the acreage that was not in small grain or hay was transitioned to pasture. "So we started grazing and felt weird for not planting corn and beating ourselves to death like all the guys out planting their annual crops." Ron makes no bones about the challenge of transitioning from row crops to grazing. "Even though our land had been farmed in contour strips and still had high fertility, the soil had been raped and pillaged by the growing of row crops." It took about 5 years to get the pastures established, and even then it wasn't until a grazing expert visited his pastures and suggested fallowing a few acres at a time that they really flourished.