Stepping up to the table

RURAL CANBY – Area farmers gathered at the Lloyd and Wendy Schrunk farm Wednesday afternoon for the Southwest Minnesota Farm Water Management and Cover Crop Field Day. Representatives from various agriculture businesses talked with farmers about the latest practices in soil health, cover crops, controlled drainage, pollinators and sub-irrigation to increase productivity and benefit the environment.

The field day concluded with a panel discussion that included U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, Rep. Chris Swedzinski and Sen. Gary Dahms.

On display at the farm was a recently-installed controlled drainage system that Schrunk uses to manage moisture in his field. He wanted to “improve our farming and to be able to control the water table” on his land that is adjacent to a small creek and is prone to flooding.

“We just had seven-and-a-half inches of rain, so it’s obviously working. It was flooded on Sunday and everything was under water,” Schrunk said looking at what little standing water was left in his field from Saturday’s rain event. “We needed (the rain) bad, but we didn’t need quite that much.”

The controlled drainage system isn’t just used for moving water off a field; it can also store water that can later be reintroduced to the soil when conditions are dry. The benefits of the system also help the environment by controlling runoff into nearby waterways.

“We can also shut the system down and hold water back so nitrogen doesn’t flow into the creek,” Schrunk added.

Schrunk also encouraged other farmers to consider a system similar to his, suggesting that farmers “look into it and all the different agencies that offer assistance and help design it and pay for it.”

Stu Frazeur set up the event along with the MN Department of Agriculture, the Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District and Schrunk. Frazeur, who owns a tiling business in Canby and was the contractor that installed Schrunk’s controlled drainage system, was on hand to coordinate sessions as well as promote the use of controlled drainage systems and other practices on display at the field day.

“I thought this would be a great and fun thing to do as I really appreciate the opportunity to tell people about agriculture, the steps ahead of us and for people to see these things,” Frazeur said. “There are resources and people around here that can help you do all of these practices, and they can be adapted to each person’s farm. Tap into those resources.”

Promoting the benefits of cover crops under a tent during the field day were Justin Fruechte from Milbron Seeds in Brookings, S.D., and Brandon VanMiddendorp from La Crosse Seed in Sioux Falls, S.D. Fruechte said that cover crops “hold the ground and prevent erosion,” resulting in less nitrogen loss and increasing water filtration. Some cover crops, like radishes, can help break up the soil in fields, essentially tilling a field.

“The tap root will go deeper than any tiller and open up the soil,” VanMiddendorp said.

Another advantage of cover crops is that when they are done growing, they decompose and add organic matter to the soil. Farmers can plant cover crops in the summer, using ariel planting methods to place seeds between corn plants and setting up a strong cover crop to protect the soil during the winter.

During the afternoon panel discussion, local elected representatives, Barry Goodwin from Hancor/ADS Tile and DeLon Clarksean from Certified Crop Advisors gave their views on the future struggles that farmers will face with changing technology and new regulations. Overall, the panelists were optimistic about the future of agriculture but cited proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations and a general ignorance about agriculture as hurdles in the way of the future of farming.

Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, urged attendees to continue “educating the general population about agriculture, what agriculture does and how they do it.”

“There is so much misconception out there,” Dahms said. “We have a great story to tell in ag, and we just need to tell it more.”

Other panelists echoed Dahms’ concerns, including Clarksean who said: “People think food comes from a factory or a warehouse. They know there is a West Coast, but the middle of the U.S. is a giant black hole or doesn’t exist.”

“We need to make sure the consumer understands the responsibility that agriculture has and the role they play in feeding the world,” Dahms added.

Beyond education, Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said that there should also be focus placed on returning young people to rural Minnesota and getting them “involved back here with ag and farming.”

The EPA’s proposed changes to the clean water act was another hot topic at field day. Peterson, a Democrat in Minnesota’s 7th District, said the new rules would put up more roadblocks for tiling fields. He said that he doesn’t believe that the EPA has the authority to change the rule and that if they tried “we will stop them and take that authority away from them.”

The amount of agencies creating the rules came under fire more than the regulations themselves.

“There are three hoops to jump through at the county, state and federal level,” Goodwin said.

Peterson said that it currently takes the authority of four different agencies to decide what a wetland is, and saying that “this is another example of urban people not understanding what is going on out here in the real world.”

“The floodgate of regulation is just beginning to be opened,” Clarksean said. “We in ag think we’re not the problem. We are part of the problem.” Clarksean mentioned problems such as manure application issues as well as nitrogen and sediment reduction rules that are being considered.

“How we farm is going to be greatly changed in the next 10 years,” Clarksean said concerning the proposed regulations. “It’s going to be a huge impact on our industry.”