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Top conservationists chosen in Minnesota

The Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts will recognize conservationists across the state at its annual convention Dec. 14.

Paula Mohr

December 8, 2021

8 Slides
scenic farmstead

EFFORTS RECOGNIZED: Farmers, landowners and other conservationists will be recognized at the 2021 annual convention of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, to be held Dec. 12-14. Dave Hansen

Eight area winners have been chosen as finalists for the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ (MASWCD) annual Conservationist of the Year award.

Finalists for the 2021 Outstanding Conservationist Award are Ryan and Michael Hough, Rothsay, nominated by Wilkin Soil and Water Conservation District; Nathan and Angie Walter, Westport, nominated by Pope SWCD; Burnell Peterson and Ann Carlander, Wrenshall, nominated by Carlton SWCD; Mallery Jerseys Inc., Shafer, nominated by Chisago SWCD; Michael and Mary Hewitt, Walnut Grove, nominated by Redwood SWCD; KD2 Farms, Mapleton, nominated by Blue Earth SWCD; the Gerard family, Spring Grove, nominated by Root River SWCD; and the Hollister family farm, Brainerd, nominated by Crow Wing SWCD.

The state winner will be announced Dec. 14 during an awards luncheon at the 85th annual MASWCD convention. The presentation is the culminating event of the three-day conference, to be held Dec. 12-14 at the Doubletree by Hilton Bloomington-Minneapolis South in Bloomington. The awards 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.

Here is more about the 2021 conservation finalists:

Northwest Area 1. Brothers Ryan Hough and Michael Hough of Rothsay farm 1,400 acres of row crops and run a 600-head cattle operation in the northeast corner of Wilkin County. They have a diverse crop rotation of corn, soybeans, sunflowers, wheat, barley and alfalfa.

They started integrating full-season cover crops into their no-till operation to get the benefit of grazing the cover crop after the cash crop was harvested. Doing so allows them to extend the grazing period beyond the fall frost. They have also switched from conventional grazing to rotational grazing in their pastures.

The Hough brothers have used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) programs, along with grazing Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve (RIM) easements. They are currently in the process of getting their Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification.

West-Central Area 2. Nathan and Angie Walter of Westport operate a 390-acre organic dairy farm and raise corn, hay, rye, barley, oats and cover crops. They milk 100 Guernsey-Red Holstein-Norwegian-cross cows, along with herd replacements; and they raise broiler chickens and laying hens. They have made investments in an ag waste storage facility, nutrient management plan, shelterbelt, cover crops, grazing plan, reduced tillage, cover crops, no-till and soil health practices. Their farm is Minnesota Ag Water Quality-certified.

Northeast Area 3. Burnell Peterson and Ann Carlander operate a bed and breakfast on their land near Wrenshall. Peterson has worked with the SWCD for decades to improve forest health and pollinator habitat.

Recently, in cooperation with the Carlton SWCD, Peterson thinned his forest to give the remaining trees room to thrive. He mills the logs into lumber himself. Peterson and Carlander worked with the district to establish a native grass and flower meadow for pollinator habitat. Their efforts are paying off, as they see more bee and butterfly activity.

Metro Area 4. The Mallery family are owners and operators of Mallery Jerseys Inc. in Shafer. They operate a 485-acre dairy farm and milk around 250 head. The Mallerys raise corn for silage and grain along with hay to feed their dairy cattle. The family began faming in the 1950s along the escarpment of the St. Croix River. Due to their unique location and close vicinity to a National Scenic Riverway, the Mallerys have always seen conservation as important to their operation.

They have implemented a wide range of practices, including cover crops, buffers, diversions, water and sediment control basins, no till, nutrient management, and integrated pest management. In 2020, they received certification in the state’s agricultural water quality program.

Southwest Area 5. Michael and Mary Hewitt of Walnut Grove, operate a grain operation on the banks of Plum Creek, raising corn, soybeans and wheat. Mike grew up farming with his father, raising crops and hogs, and began farming full time in 1989. He was always interested in trying new methods and built his own strip-till unit before the equipment was available.

The Hewitts stumbled upon no-till when Mike and his father helped a neighbor plant soybeans during a wet spring. Tillage was not an option. Because of that experience, the Hewitts stuck with no-till in their operation, as well as strip-till and cover crops.

South-Central Area 6. Karson and Kameron Duncanson, of KD2 Farms in Mapleton, are fourth-generation farmers. When the Duncansons took over the family farm five years ago, they continued their father’s conservation efforts by planting more than 1,000 acres of cover crops, switching to strip-till practices on their cornfields and moving their bean fields to 100% no-till. Before Minnesota’s buffer law was written, the Duncansons had enrolled 20 acres of KD2 Farms into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for filter strips and grassed waterways, making them buffer-compliant before most.

Southeast Area 7. The Gerard family of Spring Grove operates a diversified crop and livestock operation with corn, soybeans, cereal grains and hay along with cover crops. In addition, the family custom-feeds 300 to 400 heifers from calfhood to freshening for a local dairy. The original farm, in the family since the early 1960s, consists of a mix of forestland, rotational pasture, CRP and cropland.

Over the years, the Gerards have added several grade stabilization structures, contour strips, CRP and a couple miles of waterway, in addition to constructing numerous other best management practices to address the resource concerns on their farm. They’ve also made feedlot improvements.

North Central Area 8. The Hollister family farm in Brainerd is near the Nokassippi River, a 46.5-mile-long tributary to the Mississippi River. The Hollisters have transformed an 80-year-old, highly intensive soybean and corn farm into perennial vegetation, with 40 paddocks through which cattle and sheep rotate.

They raise 60 cows on 120 acres that are direct-marketed to consumers. The intense rotational management system has increased the farm soil organic matter and improved water percolation. The Hollisters partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, SWCDs and the Happy Dancing Turtle organization to provide outreach help to individual farmers in the Pine River Watershed with implementing soil health practices.

Read more about the MASWCD annual convention.



About the Author(s)

Paula Mohr

Editor, The Farmer

Paula Mohr has been editor of The Farmer since 2004. She enjoys covering a wide range of topics that are of interest to Minnesota producers.

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