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Four Hill Farms brings the pasture right to the plate

Four Hill Farms knows the importance of diversification and did so to their farming operation in 2010.

Four Hill Farms cattle
Four Hill Farms runs a diversified operation, something that is becoming increasingly important in the agriculture industry. Photo taken March 29, 2022 in Barnesville, Minnesota.
Emily Beal / Agweek
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BARNESVILLE, Minn. — Diversification of farming operations continues to gain popularity as farms and ranches attempt to garner more cash flow. Four Hill Farms in Barnesville incorporated this vital part to their farm a decade ago.

A cow calf operation, a variety of crops and a pasture-to-plate project offer Four Hill a variety of business opportunities and cash flow outlets. Their pasture to plate endeavor has proven to be a worthwhile undertaking, especially in the days of COVID-19.

“We’ve really focused more in on it. We’ve developed a freezer trailer and a different network of butchers we use to be able to keep a constant circulation of meat coming through,” Jake Thompson said. “I think it has become very important because people are more aware now. They really like to know where exactly their product, their meat, is coming from. They want to hear the story behind it. They want to make sure their mindset of how something should be raised is also matching what they’re purchasing in the store.”

Freezer trailer
Four Hill Farms diversified their operation by offering beef directly to consumers. They use a freezer trailer to transport their product to consumers. Photo taken March 29, 2022, in Barnesville, Minnesota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Jake and his brother, Nathan Thompson, are the fourth generation to tend the soil of Four Hill Farms, taking over the reins of the operation in 2003. The pair started their pasture-to-plate business in 2010. They sell their product in a freezer trailer and have been selling up to 50 animals a year for consumers to eat, which is up compared to previous years. Jake Thompson believes that many consumers were worried about a beef shortage during the early stages of COVID, driving up his sales and overall demand for his product.

“For us, it’s a great way to diversify. You have to this day in age,” he said.

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The Thompsons also use embryo transfer and artificial insemination to help make their genetics among their registered Black Angus cattle herd the best they can be. Four Hill holds an annual bull sale where they offer their premium genetics to other farmers and ranchers looking to add a quality bull to their herd.

Jake Thompson
Jake Thompson runs the farm with his brother, Nathan Thompson. The pair took over the farm in 2003. Photo taken March 29, 2022, in Barnesville, Minnesota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

In addition to their successful diversification venture, the Thompsons also farm 2,500 acres. They plant corn, soybeans, sugarbeets, wheat and alfalfa, and they have planted sunflowers in the past. The pair keep a close eye on the market prices and use that as a guide on what crops to plant.

Jake Thompson is the vice president of Minnesota Cattlemen's Association and knows the importance of all the operations that reside in the state, no matter the size of the farm or ranch.

“Minnesota’s land values are fairly high. So not everybody can have the land to be a large producer. For the majority of Minnesota producers, this is their second income,” Thompson said. “I think a lot of these small town communities would be horribly hurt if all the sudden you pulled a beef operation out of there.”

Joe Armstrong, a University of Minnesota Extension educator that specializes in cattle production, recently released his research about the Minnesota cattle industry as a whole. The research was rigorous and helped give an insight to one of the state’s top industries.

“One of the things we saw was that we had two pretty distinctive populations in Minnesota when it comes from producers. The majority of our cattle are represented by large operations, but when we talk people it’s a different story. So, the majority of the people are on smaller operations and it was a little surprising to see that,” Armstrong said. “These small farms that are spread out across the state are integrated with the community.”

Armstrong stressed the importance of small Minnesota operations and how they need to continue to thrive, as they help their local communities as well.

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