Educating Non-Farming Folks, One At A Time

Northstar Notes

Farmers and conservationists walk around the farm, talk and learn from each other.

Published on: September 6, 2013

There was an interesting column in the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune by Dennis Anderson entitled "Raising crops and awareness."

The outdoors columnist attended a Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council-sponsored farm visit that was held on Spring Creek Farms near North Branch. Owners John and Jewell Peterson are currently involved with Discovery Farms Minnesota. The farm encompasses 700 acres of corn and 700 acres of soybeans, with a small acreage of locally sold vegetables. Since the mid-1990s, the Petersons have been leaders in soil conservation practices when they began no-tilling their cropland.

Discovery Farms, in partnership with Chisago County Soil and Water Conservation District, is monitoring the farm's management practices and their impact on sediment and nutrient losses to surface waters. The project will last five to seven years.

The columnist first explained how he ended up on the farm. Basically, he wondered why former colleague, outdoorsman Ron Schara, started working with MSR&C as front man for "conservation's dark side"—i.e.-farming. So he needed to see for himself what was going on. Schara was scheduled to be at the farm to discuss efforts to get farming and outdoors sporting interests together to talk conservation. Previous to this engagement, Schara was at the Game Fair in Ramsey in Anoka County earlier in August. He served as moderator for an agricultural panel at that event, which Anderson attended.

Anderson, who founded Pheasants Forever three decades ago, is a long-time critic of modern agriculture. He blames farmers for loss of wildlife habitat and for increasing water pollution because, he believes, they plow up land without considering the need for healthy ecosystems.

As the North Branch farm tour progressed, Anderson was taking everything in, as an astute journalist should.

His column's reflections on what he learned were enlightening and heartening.

Bottom-line: He learned that you cannot look at agriculture, lump it all together and label it 'polluter.'

Each farm operation is different, based on topography, soil, productive versus highly-erodible acres, etc. Accordingly, each farm will employ different types of soil and water conservation projects to protect natural resources.

As the headline said, "Raising crops and awareness," the 'awareness' raising was truly on the part of the columnist.

Farmers have been practicing conservation for decades in Minnesota. As times change, so have those practices to protect soil and water. As Anderson learned, farmers tailor the conservation for their operations. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Anderson concluded by saying that he is open to visiting more farms, such as Petersons, across the state. He wants to see how farms add conservation to the livestock/crop mix, how they manage and monitor nutrient, sediment and water runoff, and if they have land set aside for wildlife. An obvious choice would be for him to visit more Discovery Farms in the state. However, he must broaden his vantage point and see what other farmers are doing, too.

I emailed him information about the state-wide conservation awards that The Farmer sponsors in conjunction with the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts' annual convention that is held in December. Since the 1960s or so, the magazine has recognized landowners for their conservation efforts. In those early years, the magazine handed out Farmer-Sportsman and Junior Conservationist awards. By the 1970s, the magazine helped sponsor conservation awards in conjunction with the annual MASWCD convention.

So we know there are thousands of conservation-minded landowners across the state taking care of our natural resources.

If he follows through on his intent, Anderson will be on the road for a long time.