Hearing from Field Stewards Farmers

  • March 25, 2018
  • |
  • Greg Bohrer

Field Stewards is celebrating its second year of improving water quality through the power of farmer-company partnership. Pilgrim’s Pride poultry company (formerly Gold’n Plump), in the two years they participated in the Field Stewards program, paid incentives to 27 farmers for nearly 3,000 acres of certified land, the equivalent of enough feed to raise more than 1 million chickens.

Throughout the course of this project, I’ve had the chance to meet with some of those farmers making it all happen. The “it” being cleaner, safer water in Minnesota’s local communities. During our time together, I’ve learned why Field Stewards farmers do what they do for water quality, their farms and their communities.

Recently, I sat down with Steve Peterson of Paynesville, Minnesota and Ken Schefers of Cold Spring, Minnesota and got to know more about their dedication to their communities and to sustainability. I learned a lot about what makes a conservation-minded farmer tick, and I’m excited to share some of their wisdom with you!

“Farm the Best, Buffer the Rest”

Our farmers adhere to rigorous standards for water quality protection set by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and farmers can use any number of practices to achieve their water quality certification. Steve, for example, “invested in manure management, soil health, field and input management, contour farming, buffer strips, and recently put in an excavation project to capture run-off.”

But why emphasize the environment so much when it’s not required? Ken and Steve had a few things to say when I asked them. “It’s about always trying to figure out ways to get better,” said Steve. “We were early adopters, we have always thought about runoff, soil health, and all of this helps yield improvement and reduces the cost of inputs.”

Ken had maybe a pithier way to say it: “Farm the best and buffer the rest!” His highest soybean yields is where he and his brother implemented crop rotations, and he said his farm has lowered costs and increased yields because of sustainable farming practices.

Businesses need to “show folks what conservation actually looks like”

At its core, Field Stewards is a farmer-company partnership. Companies want to give farmers recognition for their efforts while investing in the resiliency and sustainability of their supply chains and their communities.

Paynesville farmer Steven Peterson had this to say about the partnership: “Even if you don’t source from [Minnesota], it is still where your employees are, and where your company’s leadership and corporate talent [is]. That is becoming a big deal, particularly for younger workers, because they care about the social impact of the company… If you can show folks what conservation actually means, and what it actually looks like, you can get folks engaged.”

“Boating, swimming, fishing… Quality of life improves when you have a clean environment”

I think one of my favorite takeaways from talking with Field Stewards farmers was when we got into community-level impacts. Since 1943, Ken Schefers’s family farm has raised livestock and grown corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and grass for hay. He told me that “there is quite a bit of tourism and hunting and fishing in our county, so farming responsibly is important. Boating, swimming, and fishing are all important and things are slowly improving. Quality of life is improved when you have a clean environment. We want to do the best we can.”

Strengthening communities through water quality improvements is what Field Stewards is all about. We give businesses and farmers a place to partner and work toward solid environmental outcomes. If you’re interested in becoming a Field Steward, let’s talk. You can reach me at gbohrer@en-in.org or give me a ring at 612-334-3388 ext. 8112.