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Conservation from every corner of the state

Slideshow: These Minnesota farmers are doing what’s right for the environment and their farms’ futures.

Kevin Schulz

January 10, 2024

8 Slides

Farmers across Minnesota are implementing conservation practices to protect their land and the environment around them for future generations.

Some of these farmers were recently honored for their efforts by being named finalists for the state’s 2023 Outstanding Conservationist Award. Randy Hinze of Pine City, Minn., is the finalist from Northeast Area 2 and was named as the state’s outstanding conservationist.

The award program recognizes farm families, individuals, conservation organizations and other groups for their accomplishments in implementing conservation practices and improving Minnesota’s natural resources. The program is sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, with support from The Farmer magazine.

Following are the area finalists who were honored at the 87th MASWCD annual meeting during an awards luncheon Dec. 13 in Bloomington, Minn.

Northwest Area 1

CCC Hought Farms, Foxhome, Minn., nominated by Wilkin SWCD. CCC Hought Farms is operated by Curt, Carter and Calvin Hought near Foxhome. Their farming rotation consists of corn, soybeans, wheat, sugar beets and sunflowers. They run a strip-tillage program across their farm while incorporating cover crops. They plant cover crop species that are beneficial to pollinators and say they see added benefits for wildlife.

In the past three years, they have planted 3 miles of trees, multiple native grass plantings and food plots to increase habitat for the wildlife to endure winter. They participate in the local SWCD soil health programs and field days along with volunteering their time at community events. The Houghts are innovative farmers continuing to challenge themselves with implementing new practices, and are leaders in the agricultural community.

West Central Area 2

Wilts Family Farm, Kerkhoven, Minn., nominated by Swift SWCD. The Wilts Family Farm near Kerkhoven is led by Harmon and Gina Wilts, with their three daughters and sons-in-law, Hannah and Luke, Katie and Simon, and Libby and Alex. The Wilts family jump-started their soil health journey in 2019 when they each became Ag Water Quality-certified.

This dovetailed into purchasing a new strip-till machine, which they now run over all their acres, raising corn, soybeans, sugar beets and alfalfa. Most recently, they began planting cover crops this fall after sugar beet harvest and into standing soybeans. They are continually learning new ways to accelerate soil health practices across their acres and are always willing to share their experiences with others.

Metro Area 4

Simon Family Agriculture, Elko, Minn., nominated by Scott SWCD. Simon Family Agriculture is located near Elko. Adam Simon has become a soil health leader through his early adoption of erosion control measures, cover crops and, most notably, no-till farming. First experimenting with no-till in 2018, Simon has continually expanded his application and operates his acres using various conservation practices. He’s placed numerous waterways and contour strips on his fields to reduce soil erosion and has plans to implement fertilizer reduction strategies.

He advocates for farmers and conservation through participation in community soil health groups, and always aims to leave the land better than he found it both for his children and for many generations to come.

Southwest Area 5

Ryan and Elizabeth Benedict, Lamberton, Minn., nominated by Redwood SWCD. Ryan and Elizabeth Benedict, with their two children, Brooks and Madeline, run a large grain and swine operation along the banks of the Cottonwood River just outside of Lamberton. The farm has been in the family since 1915, with Ryan taking over the operation eight years ago.

Over this short time, the Benedicts have constructed many structural practices to stop gully erosion. The family enjoys seeing the direct benefits conservation has on their operation. Planting cover crops in the fall protects the farm from erosion, as well as provides a home and a source of food for local wildlife.

South Central Area 6

Dale and Lori Stevermer, Easton, Minn., nominated by Faribault SWCD. Dale and Lori Stevermer operate a 450-acre grain farm along with a 2,000-head pig finishing operation. The couple use cover crops, planting both corn and soybeans into them and then later terminating the cover. The Stevermers also use a low-disturbance manure applicator with variable-rate technology to limit passes and tillage on their fields.

They also worked with the SWCD and Natural Resources Conservation Service on several projects including rock intakes, grassed waterways and extensive pollinator habitat seedings. Both Dale and Lori are involved with national pork organizations, with Dale on the National Pork Board and Lori serving as president-elect of the National Pork Producers Council. The Stevermers are excellent stewards of the land and are conservation leaders within the community.

Southeast Area 7

Duane and Karen Timm, Plainview, Minn., nominated by Winona SWCD. Duane and Karen Timm are fourth-generation dairy farmers out of Plainview. Together they manage 390 acres, 100 Holstein dairy cows, replacement heifers and beef cow-calf pairs. Their conservation efforts started with contour strips followed by grassed waterways and erosion control ponds. Cover crops are incorporated into their corn silage and alfalfa rotation for additional feed. Soil health benefits of cover crops noticed by the Timms include mellower soils and reduced soil erosion.

A recent conservation practice installed, with assistance from the SWCD, consisted of a feedlot runoff and manure management project. The Timms hope that by showcasing their conservation efforts, others will learn about SWCD services and programs.

North Central Area 8

Jeff Birchem and Gretchen Mehmel, Baudette, Minn., nominated by Lake of the Woods SWCD. Jeff Birchem and Gretchen Mehmel are avid outdoor enthusiasts who share their time and talents to promote conservation in their community. Birchem and Mehmel are often called upon to share their knowledge gained through their careers in natural resources. They engage with youth groups and students in their community, teaching them anything from wolf howling to phenology. They also support SWCD programs, including the rain gauge program and Keep It Clean shoreline cleanup.

In addition to their volunteerism, they manage their own land for wildlife habitat. Efforts include renovating abandoned fields with pollinator plantings, planting trees and conducting prescribed burns.

Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts contributed to this article.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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