Q: The Mad Ag team just loved visiting your farm. It is a really spectacular piece of property. The farm doesn’t have the traditional crop rows in squares and rectangles with lots of 90 degree angles. Instead, it gracefully unfolds across hills, flat lands, wet areas and tree stands. Can you talk about how the farm design evolved?
A. The field shapes are driven by an attempt to minimize erosion and also by wet areas and untillable areas on the farm. Back in the 70's the farm had true contour strips, but these were too challenging to farm for row crops. There's (very roughly speaking) one big hill on the farm that we wrapped with concentric circular arcs that form 240 foot wide contour strips. The circular arcs have the advantage of being easier to row-crop cultivate because each row has a constant radius. In July 2019, the farm received four inches of rain in 45 minutes which ended up washing out the bordering township road. That event prompted us to research and implement 30 foot wide prairie STRIPS (an acronym for Science-Based Row Crops Integrated with Prairie Strips) in between the 240 foot contour strips. We also placed some prairie STRIPS across the face of some other hills on the farm; these acting somewhat like a porous terrace. The wet areas (the farm has an NRCS-designated wetland on it) and the untillable areas are nature's design that we adapt to.
Q: You manage farm operations from your home in Minneapolis. What are some of the challenges of not living on the farm?
A. It’s a 45 minute commute. Not checking the farm on a regular schedule has definitely led to some issues. It can be tricky guessing what the soil moisture conditions are. Adding in the commute time after a long day of farming is challenging, and it is also a complicating factor for introducing the next generation to farming.
Q: What made you decide to grow Kernza®?
A: We tend to be early adopters. Kernza armors our soils against erosion from the increasingly common high intensity rainfall events.
Q: What crops do you grow in addition to Kernza?
A. The farm's mission is to grow food. In addition to the 20 acres of Kernza, we mostly grow food grade small grains, food-grade soybeans and we have a canning contract for sweet corn. We'll also grow some seed for Albert Lea Seed -- this was instrumental in helping us transition the farm to organic from 2014 to 2017.
Q: What biodiversity is on the farm?
A: There are lots of mammals (coyotes, badgers, skunks, pocket gophers, and small rodents) and quite a few different birds and insects (including a dozen hives of honey bees). The prairie STRIPS were seeded with 38 varieties; different trees on the untillable parts of the farm, lots of different kinds of weeds (we're fighting to keep wild parsnip off the farm). We're hoping our soil biology is becoming more active.
Q: What is the biggest Kernza challenge? What is the biggest opportunity?
A: With its small seed, getting a Kernza stand established can be a challenge. A firm seedbed in a field with lower weed pressure helps in this regard. There are several big opportunities. We really like the Land Institute's and Forever Green's visions for perennializing agriculture.
Q: What is your favorite thing about the farm? About being a farmer?
A: Trying to work in harmony with Nature. Being stewards of the land. Farming can be a noble endeavor.
Q: What would you like the PPGC to accomplish in the next few years?
A: I’d like to see the Kernza acres tripling (or more) every year, Kernza yields/acre increasing by 10% per year, and the PPGC being well-managed and effective at marketing and selling Kernza and commercializing other new crops from TLI and FGI.