2022 was a year filled with great accomplishments in conservation. With another year coming to a close, the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) takes a moment to recognize the positive influence that individuals have on the natural resources and leadership roles within our communities. This is done through their Conservation Leaders program. The Conservation Leaders program gives appreciation and recognition to outstanding conservationists, trendsetters, and stewards of the land in Scott County. This year, the Scott SWCD is proud to recognize Casey Acres as the 2022 Conservation Leaders.
The Caseys—encompassing Rob Casey, Patty Casey, Jake Borchardt, and Calvin Casey—have been a community name for generations, and over the last decade they have become a pioneer in sustainable agriculture practices, becoming local leaders in cover crops and reduced-tillage methods. The Caseys also practices nutrient management via variable rate fertilizer spreading, maintain grassed waterways, and represent the community through multiple leadership roles. The family's journey to their current legacy is exemplary.
Continuing a Legacy
The Caseys have been farming in the Prior Lake and Credit River area since 1855 when their great grandfather came from Ireland to start a new life in Minnesota. Up until 2010, the Caseys maintained a traditional operation of corn, soybeans, and small grains with a dairy operation that sustained their growing family.
The operation proved successful. However, Rob Casey remembers one fateful moment in the fall of 2010 when he looked across his rolling, recently harvested soybean fields and noticed two things. He first noticed the distinct lack of greenery that comes after harvesting live crops, and the bare dirt that is left to the elements. With that thought, Rob realized how much smaller his hills appeared from what he remembered in his childhood. With wind kicking up dust in the air around his hills, it became clear; the Casey’s fields were disappearing.
That revelation was the beginning of a new direction for the family. After digging into his own research on sustainable agriculture, Rob brought his inquiries to the Scott SWCD. And after discussing his operation and goals with the advisors on staff, Rob decided to try his hand at cover crops.
Cover crops consist of grasses, legumes, forbs, or other herbaceous plants seeded either before or after the harvest of a primary crop. The primary benefits of cover crops include reducing erosion and improving the soil's physical and biological properties. Healthy soil yields less runoff and improves nutrient and water utilization by crops.
The Caseys began seeding an average of 60 acres of cover crops annually with great success. “The dust in the air reduced almost immediately,” Rob comments. “The added greenery is a major benefit too, and not just because of the soil stability. The land looks healthier.”
They continued seeding radish and rye cover crops into September soybean stubble in 2018 and 2019, adding over 100 more acres of cover crops planted! Currently in 2022, Casey Acres has a total of 214 acres of cover crops planted in contract with the Scott SWCD—all of which protect tributaries that lead into Credit River.
Protecting our Lakes through Farming
Seeing the success that cover crops brought to their operation, the Caseys dove headfirst into sustainable agriculture. With such a large operation, a great majority of the fields that Casey Acres manages connects to Credit River. In order to prevent agriculture runoff and reduce their impact on the vital waterway, the Caseys have taken a number of precautions. The family practices reduced tillage, they have installed specialized water quality intakes to increase water infiltration on their fields, and they practice a technique called “variable rate application” which limits their fertilizer and pesticide usage to only the areas of a field that needs it.
With these combined efforts, Casey Acres has achieved “Lake-Friendly Farm” certification from the Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed District on 104 acres of their operation and certification in the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification program on all 1,307 acres of their operation. This monumental certification will ensure State water quality standards are maintained on those acres for the next ten years.
“You can make a big difference in ten years,” the Caseys comment. “It may seem like a small drop in the bucket, but even one year of planting cover crops and reducing tillage saves metric tons of soil. Multiply that by ten years and you can see the positive impact you’re making.”
In addition to farming, the Caseys are prominent members in the community. Rob was elected to the Scott SWCD Board of Supervisors in January 2013. These supervisory positions provide a conduit for public input and insight to the workings of the Scott SWCD, ensuring its efforts remain aligned to the people they serve. In 2018, after five years of exceptional representation and service, Rob was elected to serve as the SWCD Board Chair which he continues to dutifully fulfill in 2022.
Casey Acres have always put tremendous emphasis on supporting the community that they were raised in. As a way of solidifying that support, for the last five years Casey Acres have partnered with Prior Lake Public Schools through their farm-to-school program. That partnership brings a donation of 1500 sweetcorn cobs to local schools every year, giving students nutritious, community-grown food.
Representatives from the Prior Lake Savage school district were thrilled to receive this community learning opportunity for their classrooms. “Students got a chance to husk their own corn before getting it served to them at lunch. We thank Casey Acres for their awesome donation!”
For the last five years, Casey Acres has also partnered with a food bank in Elko New Market. For sweetcorn’s three-month harvest season, Casey Acres donates 1,000 cobs to the food pantry that serves an average of 300 families. Measures like this and farm-to-table programs ensure that food stays within the community it is grown in—creating greater connection to food and reducing that food’s environmental impact.
“We’ve been in this community for generations,” the Caseys comment. “We want to make sure we give back for everything it’s given us.”
Reflections for the Future
The Caseys are great leaders in conservation. They are continually improving their substantial operation and maintaining the good practices they have already started. The Caseys view conservation as a way to move forward, and they see experimentation as a great discovery during the process. Whether Casey Acres is trying a new cover crop seed mix or changing just a couple small things on their lake-friendly farm properties, they lead their network by example and prove that conservation can be both cost-effective and make a big impact, no matter how big or small the change.
With all their wisdom, they were asked what advice they had for farmers and producers who are thinking about implementing new conservation practices on their land.
“If you want to get started, reach out to your local SWCD. They’ll know how to help,” The Caseys said. “And remember, those short-term changes will turn into long-term benefits. Trust your instincts and protect your land for the future.”
Congratulations to Casey Acres for their Conservation Leader recognition, and may their positive impacts continue to improve the soil quality, water quality, and environment in Scott County.