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January 9, 2024
Randy Hinze doesn’t feel as though he is doing anything differently than other farmers, but his efforts earned him the honor of being named 2023 state outstanding conservationist by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Hinze was announced as the winner during an awards luncheon at the 87th annual meeting of the MASWCD Dec. 13 in Bloomington. 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 MASWCD, with support from The Farmer magazine.
“It’s quite an honor,” says Hinze, Pine City, who was nominated by the Pine SWCD. “Everybody works hard at doing a good job out there, but it’s nice to be recognized.” Hinze represented Northeast Area 3 as one of eight finalists.
Each regional finalist was showcased in a presentation during the luncheon, prior to Hinze’s crowning moment. After seeing the competition, Hinze’s wife, Pam, was even more amazed when her husband was announced as the winner.
“We were surprised, especially after watching the slideshow of all the finalists,” Pam says. “Everybody just does amazing work. You get in your own bubble and just do your own thing, not thinking about what everyone else is doing.”
Hinze is a third-generation farmer who started farming in 1986. In 2020, he transitioned from dairy to row crops, hay and some beef cattle for direct marketing.
Hinze has adopted many conservation practices, including no-till in 2005, cover crops, livestock exclusion fences, water and sediment control basins, native buffer plantings, grassed waterways, and a native habitat restoration project. To implement these practices, he has partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pine SWCD, the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, the Lower St. Croix Watershed and the Minnesota Land Trust.
“Farmers don’t have to do it alone,” says Paul Swanson, Pine SWCD district manager. “Farmers can work with our staff. We have a great NRCS staff that has been working with them for quite a while. He has his agronomist. He relies on a team.”
Acknowledging such collaboration is a two-way street, Swanson says. “We can’t do what we do without landowners who are willing to work with us.”
Hinze started planting cover crops independently years ago with rye and radish planted after small-grains harvest. In 2023, he expanded the cover crops to corn and soybeans through an Environmental Quality Incentives Program contract. He interseeded rye and radish with his fertilizer application on corn, and broadcast rye and clover seed into his soybeans before harvest.
He did this to increase soil health by keeping the soil covered, increasing biodiversity, increasing organic matter and keeping a living root in the soil. Another goal of this practice was to reduce wind and water erosion, thus extending the life of his water and sediment control basins and making them more effective.
KEEPING IT CLEAN: Randy Hinze’s farm is located in the Lower St. Croix Watershed, and his farming practices reflect his eye on the surrounding environment. “As long as you keep it clean here, it ends up in the lake fairly clean,” he says. (Pine SWCD)
When Hinze’s dad retired, his brother and wife had off-farm jobs; with row crop farming and dairy cattle, the farm was too much work for one person. Hinze started looking for ways to save time and turned to no-till. He says no-till appealed to him because it would reduce his fuel usage, wear and tear on his equipment, and wind and water erosion while improving soil health.
In 2005, he bought a six-row no-till planter. From 2016-18, he used the SWCD’s rental no-till drill to no-till 173 acres of wheat into soybean stubble. This helped him decide to purchase a new no-till drill and sell all his tillage equipment. Hinze’s farm is now entirely no-till.
He has noticed a change in the soil, saying it is mellower and there are places he wasn’t able to plant before that he can farm now. “I have fun doing it,” he says. “It gets boring working the ground steadily. It’s a challenge and you get to try different things.”
Hinze rotates between beans, corn, wheat and hay ground — mostly alfalfa with some timothy grass — on all 400 acres. He plants insect-resistant varieties when possible and works closely with his agronomist to optimize applications of pesticides and fertilizer by following the University of Minnesota Extension’s best management practices. He takes soil tests every three years to inform his nutrient management strategy.
The integrated conservation practices on his land work together to make a larger impact on the landscape. According to Hinze, “As long as you keep it clean here, it ends up in the lake fairly clean. That’s what it’s all about.”
Swanson says this award just reinforces the work Hinze has put in over the decades to improve his farm and the surrounding environment.
“We’ve seen Randy doing these wonderful things on his farm and started working with him more closely the last few years. It has been fun to see all the incredible things he’s doing and the willingness to showcase that to other farmers,” Swanson says. “This is really awesome to see him recognized at the state level.”
Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts contributed to this article.
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.
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