FAIRMONT– The annual I-90 Soil Health Tour made a stop in Fairmont on Tuesday. The annual event was organized by the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Martin and Faribault County Soil and Water Conservation District. This year’s speakers were Dean Sponheim and Andrew Linder, two farmers who have successfully applied cover cropping, strip-mulch and no-mulch techniques to their operations.
Sponheim farms over 800 acres near Nora Springs in northern Iowa and also operates a cover crop seed and application service business that he started after implementing the practice on his farm. He said roughly 90 percent of his land was uncultivated at one point.
Linder farms about 2,000 acres with his father and business partner near Easton in Faribault County.
Both men described themselves as promoters of conservation practices. These techniques are expected to improve soil health and water quality while also simplifying farm operations without adversely affecting yields.
Planting a cover crop such as barley between thin crops will help anchor the topsoil in place, while the cover crop sequesters nutrients from the soil and suppresses weed growth. Once the crop has matured, it can be harvested for food or left out in the field where its decomposition will then return those nutrients to the soil where they can be used by subsequent crops.
“(Neighbors) kept telling me I was putting in too much nitrogen, but if my cover crops can capture it and store it and I can use it again, I’m in. It wasn’t for conservation, it wasn’t because I was removing nitrate from the soil, it wasn’t for erosion purposes. Sponheim said.
Linder said that while implementing the practice carries with it a degree of uncertainty, implementing new practices is both valuable and necessary.
“We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable because these crop products really grate on the nerves when you’re starting out. It’s nerve-wracking even if you’ve been doing it for a while.” Linder said.
Tillage and no-till systems reduce the amount of tilled soil it receives, which can disrupt the natural systems that help the soil retain nutrients and maintain its integrity. Limiting soil erosion will then help improve the amount of water and nutrients present within it, while also reducing runoff and erosion.
Sponheim estimated that switching to no-till techniques saved him more than $14 per acre last year compared to conventional tillage by reducing tillage complexity, which in turn reduced the amount of labor and equipment that allowed for greater efficiency. large during planting.
“We use less trips, less fuel (and) less time on the tractor,” said Spongheim.
Spongheim hopes that his continued use of these techniques will gradually improve the quality of the soil to the point where he will be able to use much less water and fertilizer.
Both Spongheim and Linder believe that while no two operations are the same, these practices can be successfully implemented on anyone’s farm.
“If I can do that… and I’m still here, I think everyone in this room can do the same or something similar.” Sponheim said.
They stated that switching to reduced soils and planting cover crops is affordable and works well on a variety of soils, while also being compatible with organic manure or compost.
Pat Duncanson was a farmer who attended the talk and has chosen to implement the practices the speakers promoted.
“We’ve been aggressively reducing tillage and applying cover crops for about eight years.” Duncanson said.
Although Duncanson has already begun implementing regenerative farming practices, he said the event was a chance to hear what his peers have done to implement these practices in their operations.
“This seemed like a good opportunity to learn what other farmers are doing, because a lot of what we’re doing we learned through trial and error.” Duncanson said.
A highlight for him was another person’s analysis of the economic impact of practices.
“We’ve done our calculations and it was interesting to see someone else’s calculations to have the confidence to see what we’re seeing confirmed.” Duncanson said.
While Sponheim and Linder primarily discussed the economic benefits of reduced tillage and cover crops, they also spent some time emphasizing the environmental and social impacts of their implementation.
Sponheim noted that farmland that absorbs rainfall can also provide significant benefits to people living nearby by preventing flooding.
“The public is starting to notice. I’m on Twitter and I see posts of people taking pictures of dirt in the street drain. We used to not pay much attention to this and now non-farmers are starting to say ‘hey farmers, you get a few dollars from our taxes through various subsidies, are you doing your best for us?’ The water quality is great. We start talking about nitrates and phosphorus in the water … they’ve improved, but we still have a way to go.” Linder said.
Sponheim suggested that landowners interested in implementing these practices remember the three Ps of planning, patience, and persistence, and stated that some experimentation is needed to achieve optimal results.
Linder agreed and said: “There’s no right way to do it, there’s a way that works best for you.”
Both farmers encouraged interested farmers to reach out with questions and comments. Later this week, the land tour will make stops in Stewartville and Hokah. She visited Heron Lake on Monday.
Leave a Reply