Soil health organization meets in Owatonna

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By William Morris, Owatonna People’s Press

OWATONNA — More than 100 farmers gathered Tuesday in Owatonna to get the latest scoop on soil.

The Freeborn County Soils Health Team, a collaboration between local, state and federal agencies and agricultural businesses, held its winter meeting at the Eagles Club in Owatonna, with farmers from around southern Minnesota showing up to learn more about soil science and crop rotation practices from Speakers from as far as North Dakota and Maine.

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The main goal for the soils health team, which is approaching its second birthday, is to give farmers a blueprint for adopting effective conservation techniques on their own farms, said Myles Lesen, a soil scientist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, based in Albert Lea who helped organize Tuesday’s event.

“The reason we do these conferences is to share experiences so farmers know what speed bumps to be ready for and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “They learn from others’ mistakes so they don’t make the same mistakes.”

Lesen said the group holds two annual field days and a winter meeting. Tuesday’s event was held in Owatonna to better accommodate the number of farmers planning to attend, he said.

“We needed to find a place that could hold over a hundred

people, and the Eagle’s Club was gracious enough to help set us up,” he said.

The initial presentation was from another NRCS scientist, Jay Fuhrer of Bismark, N.D.

“We’re taking a look at what you have in the ground right now, regarding cover, plant diversity, and how do we start to more closely mimic natural plant landscapes,” he said. “Typically when we do this we start to see some changes in the landscape. We start to get erosion under control, we start to get  salinity under control. Whether it’s very wet or very dry, the land will be more resilient.”

Agricultural conservation was a hot topic in Minnesota in 2015, with the Legislature debating a proposal to require buffer strips around waterways and other steps to improve water quality. Tuesday’s meeting was focused on soil, but organizer Mark Ditlevson, who farms near Blooming Prairie, said the issues are closely connected.

“It’s all about erosion control, water quality, (and) we’ve all got to get on board with that,” he said. “It affects us all.”

Among the hundred-plus farmers in attendance was Joe Pacovsky of Hayward, who said he has attended several soils health team events in the past.

“I’m just trying to get new ideas, see what other people are doing, maybe meet up with some other people in the same situation,” he said.

Fuhrer said he speaks at events like Tuesday’s to get farmers like Pacovsky on board with ways to renew their farms with healthy, productive soil.

“Conserving a degraded resource is different than building a resource. There’s a different excitement about it,” Fuhrer said. “The first half of my career, I spent conserving a degraded resource. The second half, I stopped treating symptoms and started looking at problems, and there’s a difference.”