Lifelong Bitterroot Valley farmers and ranchers Bob and Laurie Sutherlin have spent decades establishing and growing Sutherlin Farms with a goal in mind: to keep their land in agriculture for generations to come. Bob was only a teenager when he first started buying cows, and until they could afford to buy their own, he and his wife Laurie rented ground to run their cattle and farm.

“When you grow up not having ground and have to put it together yourself, you take a different look at that land,” says Bob. “It’s something you worked your whole life for and wanted.”

Resting on some of the richest soil in all of Ravalli County, Sutherlin Farms is primarily used for irrigated crop production, including hay, alfalfa, grain and silage corn, all of which are grown to feed their cow/calf operation and herd of Red Angus that has seed stock all over the world.

“It takes good productive ground to raise enough hay to winter these cattle. You can’t just let it go away,” says Bob.

Nearly all of the farm – 99% to be exact – is identified by NRCS as “agriculturally important soil.” In addition to prime farmland, the property’s open space provides valuable wildlife habitat as well as areas for wildlife movement, especially for locally important species such as elk, deer, sandhill crane, bald and golden eagle, and other raptors.

With several other conservation easements close by and directly adjacent to the farm, the newly conserved Sutherlin Farms has added to the area’s preservation of open space near the Bitterroot River.

“Bob and Laurie making the decision to keep this ranch intact gives their grandkids the opportunity to carry on the family’s tradition of ranching when they grow up if they choose,” says daughter-in-law Lacey Sutherlin. “As parents, knowing they have that option to the contribute to the legacy in agriculture is really special for us.”

Thanks to the decision to conserve their farm, the Sutherlin family has guaranteed the preservation and enhancement of one more section of open space in western Montana – forever.