Soil health workshops scheduled to be held in southeastern Minnesota in February

Free soil-health workshops once again are being planned in February along Interstate 90 and U.S. Hwy. 14, including a workshop in Stewartville co-hosted by Mower Soil & Water Conservation District.

Partnering organizations are offering the 2023 I-90 & Hwy. 14 tour for CLASIC (Crop, Livestock and Soil Innovation Conferences) throughout the month of February in southern Minnesota. CLASIC events aim to give attendees an opportunity to network, learn and get inspired with area farmers and regional farming innovators. Discussions will focus on current trends for improving productivity and profitability in crop, livestock and healthy soil-building operations.

On Feb. 8, CLASIC will stop in Stewartville for a workshop from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Stewartville Civic Center, 120 City Center Plaza, featuring soil-health speakers and demonstrations. Reservations are required for lunch, which will be provided at no charge, and can be done by calling Angela White, Olmsted SWCD, at 507-328-7139. Registration for any CLASIC event also can be done at the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition website:

            At the Stewartville event, the speakers will include:

            Dean Sponheim, who is a fourth-generation farmer from Mitchell County, Iowa, just across the border from Mower County. Known as the “Accidental Conservationist,” he started strip tilling in 1999 and then no-tilling his corn and soybean acres in 2019 as well as aerial applying cover crops in 2012 and starting a cover crop seed business in 2014. His real passion is helping producers work through the challenges when implementing “change.”

Cover crops temporarily protect cropland from wind and water erosion as well as give living roots to soil during times when cropland often doesn’t have adequate protection. Cover crops are viewed as tools to keep soil in place; bolster soil health; improve water quality; increase stormwater infiltration in soil; and reduce pollution from ag activities.

            Martin Larsen farms 700 acres near Byron, Minn., producing corn, soybeans and food-grade oats for a diverse rotation in a full no-till system. He was named the Olmsted County’s Farm Family of the Year in 2022 for conservation and community involvement. As an Olmsted SWCD staffer, Larsen gives technical assistance to farmers and handles 40-acre test plot building for healthy soil. He talks about soil science, groundwater quality, regenerative ag practices, challenges and innovations in farming markets, caving, farming and water quality.

Andy Linder farms with his father, Don, near Easton, Minn., raising corn, soybeans, oats, canning crops and grass hay. The journey to soil health started unintentionally in 2010 when they bought a vertical-tillage machine. In fall 2016, a cover crop was put on every acre and conintues using cover crops.

He has transitioned to most corn being no-till, with some strip-till trials ongoing. Linder has a cover crop sales and application business. He does custom hire with a high-clearance cover crop seeder or a vertical till with a seed box post-harvest and matches hi customers with other applications.

Greg Olson is a field project director for the nonprofit Sand County Foundation and will talk about its “Show Me the Data” three-year, on-farm demonstration with 30 collaborating farmers across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Each field is equipped with two soil sensors extending 40 inches below the surface, giving each farmer access to real-time soil moisture and temperature data along with annual soil-health metrics.

Sand County Foundation will share preliminary highlights of how farm management influences soil temperature, infiltration, nutrient runoff potential and other factors critical to farm agronomics.

For the Stewartville event, Mower SWCD is partnering with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Minnesota Water Quality Certification Program; Olmsted SWCD; Winona SWCD; Sand County Foundation ; Minnesota Soil Health Coalition; Land Stewardship Project; and FarmersEdge.

Other events planned for the CLASIC tour include:

  • Heron Lake on Feb. 6 at Heron Lake Community Center
  • Fairmont on Feb. 7 at the Knights of Columbus Hall
  • Hokah on Feb. 9 at the Hokah Fire Station
  • Owatonna on Feb. 21 at Torey’s Restaurant
  • Sleepy Eye on Feb. 22 at the Sleepy Eye Event Center
  • Lake Benton on Feb. 23 at the Lake Benton Community Center

For more information on all the CLASIC events, contact Mark Gutierrez, executive director of the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition, at (505) 980-1360 or via email at: [email protected]

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