Written collaboratively by Roger Gates (former SDSU Extension Rangeland Management Specialist) and Julie Walker.
Achieving “sustainability” requires decisions unique to every operation and will vary depending on production systems. Rock Hills Ranch, operated by the Perman families, has been recognized for their decisions and the management practices they have implemented to steward their resources sustainably.
The stewardship of Rock Hills Ranch was recognized by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association when they received the organization’s national Environmental Stewardship Award during the 2014 annual meeting. Additionally, Rock Hills Ranch received the 2014 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes outstanding stewardship by private landowners. Rock Hills Ranch management team consists of Lyle and Garnet Perman and their son Luke and daughter-in-law Naomi.
Harsh environmental conditions shaped Lyle and Garnet’s perspective of sustainability as they started ranching in the midst of a memorable drought in 1976. According to Garnet drought management immediately became a high priority for Lyle. Lyle credits NRCS, SDSU Extension and numerous educational opportunities that helped him manage degraded and drought affected land toward the productive grassland and cropland that comprise Rock Hills Ranch today.
Keys to Success
When visiting with the Permans (Garnet, Luke and Naomi), Luke identified humility as a key to their success. He indicated there is always more to learn and ways to improve the resources they manage. Luke credits his parents for instilling his passion for excellent conservation practices and the desire to do the right things for the land as well as the livestock. The Permans are always seeking opportunities to learn through educational opportunities as well as interaction with other producers and organizations.
When asked about priorities and long-term plans, Luke expressed the understanding that most people managing the land want to do the right thing. Their long-term values include an unwillingness to sacrifice resource maintenance and improvement for the short term gain represented by money. Quality of life is an important consideration to all the Permans, as well as finding satisfaction by doing what they most enjoy doing, managing pasture and cattle rather than crop farming. Incorporating additional income from multiple revenue sources into their operation has provided support for a growing family as well as the parents.
Lyle and Garnet believe successfully transferring the operation to the next generation is essential to sustainability of any operation. Lyle and Garnet Perman have seen plenty of poorly planned and flawed transfers resulting in farms and ranches being sold or families pulled apart. They don’t want this to happen on the Rock Hills Ranch. The Permans developed plans to help ensure that the transfer goes well on their operation. Generational transfer includes transferring asset as well as management authority. They have started the process by renting the operation to Luke and Naomi. One key to successful management transfer is communication. According to Luke, they are learning (and continue to learn) how to communicate – it doesn’t come naturally. Garnet indicates that Lyle works at being an advisor to Luke and Naomi instead of the “boss.” Occasionally she needs to remind Lyle of his new role. Lyle keeps busy with numerous responsibilities outside the ranch, which allows Luke to be the primary decision maker.
The Perman families continue to work toward sustainable ranching practices that allow financial independence and improvement of natural resources for future generations. Rock Hills Ranch portrays excellence in the production practices occurring in South Dakota.