Pipestone SWCD helping producers unearth the secrets of their soil

A new, free service being offered by the Pipestone Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has been designed to help producers better understand the health of their land’s soil.
SWCDs in Minnesota, Pipestone included, provide technical assistance, funding and educational services to help private landowners make informed decisions about managing their lands in ways that help soil and water resources. Helping producers optimize soil health fits right in with that mission, said Laura DeBeer, SWCD water quality specialist.
“This is a service that relates to many of the things we’re already doing in soil and water,” DeBeer said.
Soil health is defined by the USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as the “continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.” More and more, DeBeer said, they’re learning how the health and function of soil depends upon increased organic matter, improved microbial activity, better carbon sequestration and increased water infiltration.
How to get what they know about soil health out to Pipestone County producers is what prompted the SWCD to come up with the Soil Health Assessment, DeBeer said.
“One of the best ways to do it is on the ground –– conversations with producers one-on-one, understanding their operations are all completely different,” DeBeer said. “Their goals, anticipated needs -- every producer has a different background, different story; every piece of land has a different background, different story.”
The service follows NRCS protocols and the SWCD staff has been tweaking some of those to assure the assessment is not too cumbersome, doesn’t take a long time and yet tells a valuable story. The assessment looks at compaction, soil temperature, residue and water infiltration, while a shovel test lends a visual assessment of the soil’s roots, color, smell, structure and visual organisms, such as insects and worms.
Soil samples will also be taken and sent to a local lab for a soil health test analysis, also known as the Haney test, said Danielle Evers, Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program specialist. The test gives a producer “a better baseline determination of where their soil health is at,” Evers said, while providing an accurate prediction of the potential for nitrate mineralization in the soil.
A big part of the Haney test is the Solvita test that measures the amount of carbon dioxide the soil emits, a direct indicator of micro-organisms present and the biological health of the soil.
“The more Co2 that’s given off, the higher the presence of organisms in the soil,” Evers said. “That’s one thing measured on the soil health test that isn’t normally measured in your typical soil test.”
Soil maps will aid selection for representative areas of a producer’s land when conducting the testing.
“In general when you’re picking sites for soil health you’re not going to be on the knoll of the only hill that’s in the field,” DeBeer said. “You’re not going to want the depressional area either.”
The service is completely free using current SWCD funding, including the lab testing, and is limited to Pipestone County producers. For those producers who are in transition and are incorporating conservation practices within their operations –– strip or no-till, cover cropping, diverse rotations, for example –– the initial assessment will be especially useful, Evers said.
Test results can be compared over time so producers can make management decisions based upon the things they learn through the assessments, DeBeer said.
“This is not just a one-year service,” DeBeer said.
DeBeer works in six counties in southwest Minnesota, Evers in 11 and neither knows of a SWCD offering a service like a Soil Health Assessment.
“We haven’t heard of anything like this in Minnesota yet,” DeBeer said.
Web myn jim veldkamp

Conservation has long been a part of Veldkamp Farms

Jim Veldkamp is the reigning Outstanding Conservationist of the Year for Rock County.
Veldkamp said that’s due in large part to some conservation practices he implemented on a piece of land he bought in 2016, including repairing a waterway and building farmable terraces. He said the terraces were built by running tile up a hill and building a berm with a tile inlet on the top of the hill to catch surface water.
“It keeps it from eroding down the hill that way,” Veldkamp said.
The repairs to the waterway included cleaning it out and reshaping it after it had silted in over the years, and installing tile alongside it, all of which will prevent erosion, he said. He implemented the conservation practices in 2017 and cost-shared the project with the Rock County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).
Veldkamp began implementing conservation practices on his farm west of Jasper back in 1983 when he began ridge tilling.
“We plant on 30-inch rows, so every 30 inches there’s a small ridge built with a ridging cultivator in the summer,” Veldkamp said. “Then in the following spring we plant on top of that ridge.”
He said the process involves no spring tilling and leaves all the residue on top of the ground, which is good for the soil and prevents erosion. Veldkamp said the practice was popular when he started doing it and that his father took an interest in it.
“It seemed like the opposite of now,” he said of that time period. “We were having a lot of dry springs and with tillage in the spring we were having trouble getting the seeds started germinating because of the dry conditions. Leaving the soil undisturbed and planting on the ridge, we got a nice stand.”
He also believes the practice helps the crops get started in wet weather because the ground is firmer and “has more structure.” This year he rotary-hoed the ridges to help them dry out and he got all of his corn planed by May 16 and all his soybeans planted by the first week of June.
The 2018 Outstanding Conservationist of the Year honor is not the first received by Veldkamp for his conservation efforts. In 2008 he and his late wife, JoAnn, received an environmental stewards award from the National Pork Producers Council. The year prior to that they received an environmental stewards award from the Minnesota Pork Congress.
He said those awards took into account environmental and soil conservation practices as well as community service. Veldkamp has served as an emergency medical technician (EMT) with the Jasper Ambulance for over 30 years and is currently the vice president of the Jasper Ambulance Association. He’s also on the Jasper Development Corporation Board of Directors and has previously served on the board of the local elevator and the former Jasper State Bank.
Jim and JoAnn started their farm operation west of Jasper in 1973 with 160 acres and 50 sows. Today Veldkamp Farms includes 1,650 acres of corn and soybeans and 32,000 hogs.
Veldkamp described his farm operation as “full circle.” He grows crops that he uses to make feed for the hogs at an on-site feed mill and uses the hog manure to fertilize the soil where he grows the crops.
Veldkamp said Veldkamp Farms wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of JoAnn, who died of cancer in 2017. He said JoAnn “was a key part of the farm,” involved in every part of it, including the hogs and the field work, until her health started to fail. They’d been married 45 years when she died.
“It was a huge loss for me,” he said.
Veldkamp also said the farm wouldn’t be where it is today without his two full-time employees, Joe Buysse, who started working for them in 1993, and Randy Baden, who started working for them in 2005. He’s also started succession planning by allowing Ethan Kracht to begin buying into the operation.

Family Dairy Diversifies with Lingen Dairy Soft Server

It started about three years ago when Josh Lingen, a fourth generation dairy farmer southwest of Balaton, bought an old soft serve machine and fixed it up with a friend.
Once he had it working, Lingen set it up at the dairy and pretty soon friends and neighbors started coming by for ice cream.
“The first year we gave away about $1,000 worth of ice cream,” Lingen said. “We had to quit that because things weren’t going to be going too well if we kept that up.”
Word spread about their ice cream machine and the next summer, people started asking to rent it. Because the machine was old and inconvenient to use, Lingen bought a portable unit and started renting it out.
“It took off from there,” he said. “It was so convenient and so portable that people were able to use it about anywhere.”
He said the demand for the machine was so high that he bought a second one. Then, last year, Lingen decided to bring the machines to Balaton Fun Fest and sell ice cream himself.
“I set up a stand on the side of the road and I had my two machines plugged in with a sign, ‘Cones for $2, Bowls for $3,’ and I think the first weekend we ever did was around $700 of selling ice cream,” Lingen said.
The dairy business has changed since Josh’s great grandparents, Rubin and Viola Nelson, started farming many years ago. It’s even changed significantly since his parents, Randy and Denice Lingen, started their dairy operation in 1989.
Denice Lingen said she and Randy began with 30 cows. Today, Lingen Dairy milks 400 cows and relies on robots for some of the labor. Denice Lingen said the business has also changed in that it takes more cows and more work to earn a comparable living to what her parents did when she was a child.
She and her son, Josh, said farmers today have to reinvent themselves and change their thought patterns to get ahead.
“The times are different now,” Josh Lingen said. “It’s not ‘working harder gets you more.’ It’s doing different things.”
For their family, that’s meant doing custom harvesting, manure hauling, growing cover crops and grasses, and the addition of the robotics in two phases over the last six years. Lingen said the addition of the robots has allowed some flexibility that enabled him to do something even more outside the box by starting an ice cream business.
While the ice cream sales went well, Lingen said transporting, setting up and taking down the machines was a hassle. The week after Fun Fest, Josh bought a trailer and another ice cream machine to go in it.
His father and a friend of his drove to Springfield, Ill. to pick up the ice cream trailer. Josh said they completely renovated the trailer in two days when they brought it back and then took it to Dutch Festival in Edgerton to sell ice cream that weekend.
“I hadn’t even used the machine,” Lingen said, laughing. “I cleaned it and that was it. I knew enough about the ice cream machines that I assumed it was going to work.”
Fortunately, the machine did work. And since then, the business has continued to grow. So far this year, Lingen Dairy Soft Serve has 75 events booked. Lingen also invested in a second trailer that he expected to arrive soon.
The business was Lingen’s idea, but as with the dairy, the whole family helps out.
“Mom is the cleaner and the server, I’m lining up the gigs, as I call them,” Lingen said. “Dad’s always there for repairs when we need him, and running, and I have a couple sisters who help serve too.”
Lingen Dairy Soft Serve serves nine different flavors and the ice cream is available in shakes, cones and bowls.
The ice cream is not made with milk straight from the dairy, but the family does sell their milk to Land O’Lakes and buy ice cream mix from that company. Essentially, Lingen said, the Lingens produce the milk and sell it to a processor who sells it to a distributor who sells it back to the Lingens who then sell the ice cream to the customer.
In addition to selling ice cream, Lingen said the business is a great way to talk to people about the dairy industry, or what he calls ‘ag-vocating.’
“Who better to sell a dairy product than a dairy farmer,” Lingen said. “If people have questions, they can come and ask. When people want to know anything they come and ask me. I answered dozens of questions when I was up (selling ice cream) at the [Worthington Windsurfing] Regatta.”
Anyone interested in contacting Lingen Dairy Soft Serve can reach Josh Lingen at 507-530-5959.

Minnesotan's passion for dairy lives across the border

Though Tyler Luitjens lives in Minnesota, his passion — dairy cattle — lives in South Dakota.
Luitjens, a sophomore at Heron Lake-Okabena High School in Okabena, moved to Minnesota when he was a sixth-grader. However, he has returned to the family farm near Salem, S.D., each summer since to work with and show dairy cattle.
“My grandpa, Richard Laucks, my mom’s dad, had dairy cows,” Luitjens said. “He started out with just six head and, at one time, had 100 cows. He passed away a few months ago, however. Now my uncle, Adam Lauck, has the dairy cows, but also raises beef cattle, and his kids are moving into turkeys and chickens.”
Luitjens said he feels like he’s been working with dairy cattle his entire life.
“We moved here when I was in the sixth grade, but I still went to Salem each summer to work with my grandpa,” he said. “I really enjoyed helping my Grandpa Lauck.”
Luitjens has two of his own dairy cows at his parents’ farm near Brewster, where he lives.
“I show my dairy cows in South Dakota for 4-H,” he said. “I work with them after school on my own. My entire family has showed dairy. My sister, Brittany, has helped me the most when it comes to showing my dairy cows.”
Luitjens is vice president of his 4-H club in Salem, S.D., and was president of his club last year. He is presently the treasurer of the Heron Lake-Okabena FFA Chapter. He is also a member of the chapter’s dairy handling career-development event team.
“I picked that because I have a lot of experience in that profession,” he said. “I like FFA because it has taught me leadership skills and how to work in groups. It has also given me the opportunity to make use of my knowledge in dairy. My future plan is to get my state FFA degree and also win a proficiency award.”
In addition to 4-H and FFA, Luitjens is also involved in a trap league and trap shooting with his FFA team.
“I also enjoy hunting — mostly deer and waterfowl,” he said. “But I enjoy fishing for walleye too.”
After high school, Luitjens plans to attend college and said he will probably major in animal science and animal nutrition.
“Right now, I enjoy raising dairy cows and working with them,” he said. “It gets me outdoors, not sitting inside. I also have steers. The hard part with showing dairy for me is probably the training. You have to get them to do it over and over again until they finally get used to it.”
But Luitjens is realistic about the future of dairy farming, as he has observed what is happening in places like Salem.
“Dairy is not doing good,” he said. “A lot of people are getting out of it. People don’t like to drink milk like they used to. It used to be people drank milk at every meal. But my grandpa never drank milk — except strawberry milk. He was my greatest help learning about dairy and I am glad I got to work with him for a while.”