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Farmer experiments with cocktail crops

Rollie Morud pulls a long white radish from the experimental mixed crop he planted to provide cattle grazing and improve soil quality in one of his fields. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Rollie Morud, former Bemidji School District superintendent, bought a farm in Frohn Township when he and his family moved to the Bemidji area in 1995.

Since then, he has experimented with a variety of farming practices.

"I didn't grow up on a farm," Morud said. "It's something I started up here as a retirement project, so I'm always learning."

Morud raises cattle, breeding white Charolais cows to a red Angus bull. He said the calves come out buckskin color.

He said one of his pastures, about 15 acres, was in bad shape with depleted soil and scant browse for the cattle. Last year, one of his relatives in North Dakota tried an experimental crop, a mix of grain and root vegetables, and Morud decided to try the same strategy to improve his pasture.

He bought a "seed cocktail" of 25 percent soybeans, 25 percent radishes, 20 percent purple-top turnips, 20 percent Sudan grass, 5 percent sunflowers and 5 percent oats and hired a neighbor who owns the appropriate seed drill equipment to plant the pasture. The result from the road is a strange-looking field nodding with sunflowers intermixed with ripening oats. When a visitor enters the field, the surprises are the lumpy purple turnips underfoot pushing their way out of the soil.

"The whole idea is you get some grazing this year and the soil amenities," Morud said.

He said he lets the cattle in to one section of the field at a time so they can eat that area down before moving on to fresh grazing.

"The first time over, they eat all the oats and Sudan and sunflowers," he said. "Then they come back and eat the turnips."

Throughout the winter, the remaining root crops will rot and enrich the soil.

However, Morud acknowledged that the mixed crop looks odd.

"This is the ugliest field in Beltrami County," he said.