Local Farmers Plant for Soil Health: A Year in Review
Scott County is home to many hard-working farmers, and the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is lucky enough to work with some to make our environment better. At the end of this unprecedented year, the Scott SWCD wants to recognize farmers and producers who have been working to change their operations, becoming more environmentally sustainable.
The farmers highlighted below have all implemented various conservation practices that benefit soil health. While the methods are tailored for individual farms, the benefits remain the same: conserve resources, reduce erosion, and increase soil health while remining profitable.
Schultz family, Belle Plaine farmers
Rob and Chris Schultz manage 950 acres in Belle Plaine, rotating corn and soybeans as their primary operation.
Affluential in the soil health community, the Schultz utilize precision equipment for planting, spraying and combining. Precision agriculture combines the use of GPS and traditional farming equipment, helping to prevent planting and herbicide overlap as it plants and sprays. The Schultz also have plans to purchase a fertilizer spreader that utilizes variable rate application (VRA). This will help them achieve similar benefits received from their precision equipment.
Not only do the Schultz’ and the environment benefit from this technology, but they also work with the Belle Plaine FFA, helping the students learn about precision technology on their own school’s fields. This is a great resource for students, giving them exposure to new farming technology, and showing them the benefits of these soil health practices.
When asked why they made the shift to more technical equipment, the Schultz had an easy answer. “If you don’t keep up with the times, you get left in the dust.”
Beyond the use of GPS technology, the Schultz have also worked with the Scott SWCD on a cover crop test plot for the last three years. The test plot is part of ongoing studies to find the best cover crop formulas in the Scott County area.
Pictured above: Chris Schutlz standing in his Belle Plaine field
Rob Casey, Credit River Farmer
Rob Casey and family, farming over 1000 acres across Credit River and Prior Lake, were among the first farmers in the county to try cover crops.
Cover crops are planted—as their name suggests—for cover on a farm field, rather than for the purpose of being harvested. They reduce soil erosion, pests, weed, and diseases, and they increase soil health, stability, and biodiversity.
Casey explored different application methods and seed mixes over the years, trying just about every method from no-till drilling to aerial application. He alters the strategies based on his proximity to the fields, aerial seeding his acres farther from home, and planting harvested cover crops for feed close to his farm.
His methods are a great example of how cover crops can have more than one use. In this case, his cover crops both provide nutrients and stability for his crop fields, and they provide food and nutrition for his livestock.
Casey is also a member of the Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed District’s Farmer-Led Council (FLC), and he has several farms that are “Lake Friendly” certified. The Lake Friendly Farm program is an initiative available to all farmers in the Prior Lake area. Casey’s farms that have the “Lake Friendly” certification all follow strict, yet attainable rules for soil loss management, nutrient management, manure rules, and buffer regulations. Casey’s certifications, and the certification for all Lake Friendly Farmers, are ways to provide recognition for the hard work done to protect our local water bodies.
Tim O’Loughlin, Shakopee Farmer
Tim O’Loughlin and his family have their home base in Shakopee as they manage 4,600 acres throughout Scott County. Recently, he took the initiative to rent a piece of vertical tillage equipment, seeing if it could work for his corn and soybean operation.
Tim started vertical tillage because he was hesitant to implement no-till on all his acres. But, he saw the value in leaving more residue on his fields. He wanted to disturb less soil, and vertical tillage was the perfect middle ground for him. O’Loughlin also implements a nutrient management plan that uses VRA of fertilizer. To do so, he takes soil samples every 2.5 acres to determine how much fertilizer is needed in that specific area instead of using one rate for an entire field. This both saves him money when purchasing the necessary supplies, and keeps excess nutrients out of local lakes, rivers, and streams.
O’Loughlin, along with Rob Casey, is also a member of the Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed District’s FLC, where he has participated in the cover crop initiative and instigated vertical tillage trials for other producers. With the Farmer-Led Council, he has received certification as a Lake Friendly Farm.
Scheffler family, St. Patrick farmers
The Scheffler’s manage a about 200 acres between their home farm near Lonsdale, and their grandmother’s farm by St. Patrick. Travis Scheffler, one member of the Scheffler family, was looking to try something different for their operation. He attended workshops and learned the benefits of no-till and cover crops. It just made sense to him to test it out.
Conventional tillage turns over the top layer of soil, which causes soil loss as loose soil washes and erodes away from wind and rain. No-till involves leaving crop residue on fields and planting directly into leftover crop stubble. Last winter, the Schefflers purchased a new planter that is completely setup for no-till.
In addition to no-tilling for three years now, the Scheffler’s have been planting cover crops for three years; they started their first year with aerial seeding and have since transitioned to drilling cover crops. They—like all producers who begin using alternative, conservation farming practices—experimented and switched up their strategy.
The Scheffler’s are land stewards through-and-through and are continuously looking for ways to improve their operation. They have future plans to build their own interseeder, joining other Scott County producers in that endeavor. Building their own interseeder will allow them to modify the equipment exactly how they need it, but more importantly it speaks to their character and ingenuity.
Pictured above, from left to right: Hilary, Marilyn, Craig, Justin, Travis, and baby Zoe
Agriculture’s Lasting Impact
The farmers and producers in Scott County demonstrate outstanding inventiveness and determination when it comes to protecting our farmland. The farmers highlighted in this article are all outstanding in their own right, but they are also not alone. This area is home to so many producers doing soil health practices, each farm with their own story and their own success.
Conservation agriculture has always been around and has always been implemented in different ways. With continued knowledge and new technologies for soil health always being developed, the Scott SWCD is humbled to work with producers on making a sustainable, profitable future for their farms and land.