By Alan Kraus, Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) Conservation Program Manager
From left: Alan Kraus, CRWP; Mark Purfeerst, Compeer; Shawn Lewis, Compeer; John Becker, Rice Creek farmer; Tim Little, Rice Creek farmer; Kristi Pursell, CRWP; Kevin Strauss, CRWP.
Increasingly, Minnesota farmers are being challenged to make a profit growing soybeans and corn while simultaneously, making our rivers and lakes cleaner. This is a tall order for any business, especially one that has to deal with the whims of 100-year rainstorms or mid-summer droughts.
To help area farmers with this daunting challenge, Compeer Financial recently joined other partners in providing financial support to the Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) to protect the only trout stream in Rice County. Beginning in 2018, nine farmers planted cover crops on 855 acres of land in the Rice Creek watershed which lies just west of Dundas, MN. Cover crops are plants like winter rye, turnip, clovers or oats that are planted sometime during or after the growing season of soybeans and corn to keep the soil covered between fall harvest and spring planting. These crops capture excess fertilizers and can reduce erosion, increase water infiltration into the soil and improve the biology of farm soils.
This research project will measure how planting cover crops can improve soil health and corn and soybean production while at the same time reduce fertilizer and sediment runoff into Rice Creek.
John Becker, one of the Rice Creek area farmers participating in this project said that he is excited about this project because cover crops protect the soil and prevent erosion. “Once the soil gets amended, the soil grows better crops. This is good for the soil, good for the crops and good for the stream,” said Becker.
Tim Little also farms land in the Rice Creek Watershed and is participating in the project. Tim says that his work with cover crops and no-till planting of corn and soybeans has virtually eliminated soil erosion on his fields. He is seeing better weed suppression, better water infiltration and better usage of applied nitrogen. According to Tim, “Probably the biggest change for me, is that my growing season starts in September rather than April – trying to keep something growing all the time which promotes soil health. Healthier soil, healthier critters, healthier us!”
Other partners in this project include Fishers and Farmers Partnership, Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), St. Olaf College, Minnesota DNR, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and farmers and landowners in the Rice Creek Watershed.
The Compeer Financial Fund for Rural America, the corporate giving program of Compeer Financial, has awarded 49 grants for the organization’s General Use Grant Program, totaling $268,101 this year. General Use Grants fund initiatives and organizations whose work enriches agriculture and rural America, which is Compeer Financial’s mission.
“These organizations give back to the communities in Compeer Financial’s territory every day, supporting agriculture, technology, education and the environment,” said John Monson, chair of Compeer Financial’s Fund for Rural America. “We are proud to continue our commitment to agriculture and rural America in the second year of our General Use Grant Program.”