Farmers from around the region were given an education on available services and the need to move away from extensive tilling.
Participants in the Monday event at the 40-acre farm of Roger Helgeson near Northfield, connected crops, tillage and trout with soil and wildlife health, and explored the connections between agriculture, conservation, water quality and habitat.
Following presentations, displays illustrated how the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources uses electro-fishing to estimate fish populations and river health, how researchers collect aquatic insects and how insect populations show how clean and healthy streams are. Participants were also shown how farming techniques can create soil that absorbs and captures rain and fertilizers. Less tillage and greater use of cover crops are seen as being more beneficial for the soil.
Brochures featuring cover crop basics were distributed by the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and companies at the event.
Cannon River Watershed Partnership Executive Director Kristi Pursell spoke of the projects the partnership is taking part in, including the watershed cleanup event Saturday at various locations throughout the watershed.
Land O’Lakes Precision Conservation Specialist Spencer Herbert discussed the online Truterra Insights Engine, intended to provide information on where farmers are excelling and where they should adjust management strategies and adopt new practices.
Dundas-area farmer John Becker described his evolution into using cover crops. He started using them in 2012 after previously using conventional tillage. He eventually noticed conventional tillage led to more erosion and has since transitioned to cover crops and strip-tilling.
St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Biochemistry Paul Jackson discussed a Rice Creek watershed study that took place over the last year. Beginning in 2018, area farmers planted cover crops during or immediately after the corn and soybean growing season ended. Last spring’s growing season represented the first full year of the project. Results indicate drainage from a majority of cover crop fields have lower nitrate levels than fields without cover crops.
Dean Thomas said the event was meant to illustrate how better soil practices can prevent erosion and by reducing nitrates in field drainage, improve the water supply.
He noted the need for farmers to plant alfalfa, small grains and other products to diversify their portfolios so they have more economic security.
“If we have healthy soils, we are going to have better water quality,” he said.
To Thomas, extensive tilling presents a problem. He noted tilling is a carry over from previous generations that weren't familiar with the benefits of cover crops.
“Every time you disturb the soil you’ve disturbed something that’s good,” he said.