The Seed Multiplier

Doug Brands is the water supervisor for the city of Edgerton charged with taking care of the city’s drinking water wells and its ion exchange water treatment plant that filters the nitrates out of the water.
“Edgerton has very good water except for the fact that it’s high in nitrates,” he said.
The city’s treatment facility was constructed in 2002. A new water source was added recently through Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water that gives the city more options.
“Edgerton only has one well so if that would become contaminated, we have a second source, or if our water treatment plant should fail, I can’t produce water with low nitrates so I’d be able to use some from Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water then, or I can use it as a blending source,” Brands said.
Nitrates get into the water through excess fertilizer that’s not absorbed by plants and runs-off the land or into the groundwater.
The city of Edgerton began tracking nitrates in 1983. Contracts with producers to keep the wellhead protection land out of active cropland production would begin about a decade later.
Ideally, Brands said, the city has been trying to protect its public drinking supply by preventing nitrogen from getting into the water rather than simply treating or blending once it does. That led Brands through others to Kernza, a new perennial intermediate wheatgrass that’s being developed jointly by the Land Institute in Kansas and the University of Minnesota.
The excitement surrounding the crop is Kernza’s deep root system, which at 10 feet is about twice the size of annual wheat roots, and shows promise for capturing nitrogen before it reaches the groundwater.
“So any nitrogen in the soil it sucks it out before it gets into the drinking water,” Brands said.
Brands tests for nitrates in the drinking water weekly, giving the city years of good data on what has and hasn’t seemed to work for their protection efforts.
“The reason we’re kind of excited about what we have going on right now is in the past we’ve had it in CRP [Conservation Reserve Program] and our nitrates went down,” Brands said.
When that contract came up for renewal for 10 acres of land, the land owner didn’t want to tie it up for 10 years and so it went back into corn and soybean production.
“Once it came out [of CRP] we noticed our nitrates began to go back up,” Brands said.
Edgerton is fortunate, Brands said, in that they have “fast water” –– from the time it falls from the sky to the time it’s used as drinking water is roughly two-to-three years. That means they don’t have to wait long periods of time to see changes in the water based upon land use.
“Once you can actually physically see the results then you start to understand the importance of it,” Brands said.
So once they noticed that the CRP use had minimized nitrate loading, they tried to get the 10 acres back into CRP. The landowner suggested the city rent the whole 125 acres, which it did. They then planted it in cereal rye as they waited for their Kernza seed.
The seed finally arrived in 2018, but only enough to plant 40 acres.
“It’s a tight supply because it’s so new and they don’t quite have enough to go around yet,” Brands said.
Edgerton harvested its first Kernza crop this fall.
“It was a learning experience because we don’t know really the first thing about Kernza, when it’s ripe, how it’s supposed to look,” he said.
They harvested using traditional combines for small grains and took advice from Carmen Fernholz of A-Frame Farms in Madison, Minn., one of the state’s earliest demonstration producers of Kernza who planted two acres in 2011 on his 500-acre, certified organic farm.
A handful of local farmers helped out with planting and harvesting. Curious about the new crop, they showed an interest in multiple uses for Kernza, Brands said, including one producer who said he’d like to plant the wheatgrass around his pig barn.
“It’s been a positive response, what I’ve gotten from farmers,” Brands said. “Most of them are very interested in protecting the land.”
Edgerton’s Kernza seed came from the University of Minnesota which is now buying it back to sell to other producers for other wellhead protection areas.
“We’re actually called a multiplier,” Brands said. “We’re making more seed so there’s more seed available for other farmers to plant it.”


The Conrad Century Farm: strong roots planted in Pipestone County

On a farmstead north of Jasper sits the trunk of a large old maple tree.
For the Conrad family, the tree has been a legend in its own right. At 3 feet off the ground, its base has a circumference of 12 feet. Over the years, the tree has dropped large branches in the yard and upon the house. Alan Conrad, the current property owner, has done his best to remove as much of the tree as possible to avoid further incidents. What remains is a reminder of the farmsite’s beginning as a tree claim years ago, before becoming what it is today: a Century Farm.
“My father would have been 95 this year,” Conrad  said. “He said that was a big tree when he was a kid.”
Not knowing the complete history of the tree, Conrad said it’s possible that his great-grandfather, Fredrick Conrad, planted that tree when he purchased the site around 140 years ago.
“If you think about it, the Civil War would have only been in the history books for around 14 years at that time,” Conrad said.
The Century Farm recognition program, sponsored by the Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Farm Bureau, recognizes farms that have been in continuous ownership by a family for 100 years or more. Since the program began in 1976, more than 10,500 Minnesota farms have been recognized.
Alan Conrad’s father, Marvin, applied for and received Century Farm status in 1979.
The Conrad family’s ownership of the farm began with Fredrick Conrad, a young immigrant from Germany, came to the United States in the late 1800s and worked on a railroad section gang by Rochester, where he helped to build the Milwaukee Railroad. He eventually made his way to Pipestone County on savings of $400 plus another borrowed $400 to purchase 160 acres of land in Eden Township.
Upon coming to the United States, Fredrick Conrad denounced any devotion to the King of Prussia and instead swore allegiance to the United States. His great-grandson retains a copy of the paperwork that certifies his great-grandfather’s decision.
For the next year after his arrival, Fredrick Conrad worked to break the sod and to build a 10-by-12 foot house. According to Conrad, the original house was believed to be the well pump house that is still standing on his property today.
“It sits across the driveway from me,” Conrad said.
In 1888, Fredrick Conrad decided to have the tree claim changed to a homestead, and in 1892 President Benjamin Harrison signed the deed.
Eventually, Fredrick Conrad met and married Augusta Weinkauf, and together they had seven children: Albert, Alvina, Herman, Reinhold, Henry, Matilda, Amelia and Augusta. Albert Conrad, who was born on the farm in 1893, later married Eva Bogengrief, and together they had one child, Marvin Conrad, Alan Conrad’s father.
With at least four generations of family having resided at the farm, many memories and places were shared by the Conrad family, including birth stories.
“According to the family they (Albert and his son Marvin) were supposedly born in the very same room,” Alan Conrad said.
Marvin Conrad married Letha Hess, a Grundy County, Iowa native, and together they had seven children: Lloyd, Linda, David, Karin, Alan, Marlyn, and Carol. Alan Conrad and his siblings were born over a span of 15 years.
When Alan Conrad met his wife, Karla Hohensee, a Blair, Nebraska native, they married in 1983 and moved onto the farm in 1988 when his parents moved into town in Jasper. They had two children, Ethan, who lives with his wife in Florida, and Briana, who currently lives with them on the farm.
Over the years, each generation of Conrads farmed and kept livestock on the land, but mostly for their own consumption, Conrad said. Growing up, he recalled his family kept milk cows, cattle, sheep, chickens, pigs and lambs. Conrad recalled spending most of his time outside doing chores with his three brothers, while his three sisters helped their mother with inside chores.
“They (his sisters) would help with cleaning the house and doing dishes and that kind of stuff,” Conrad said. “We got on the business end of a pitch fork a lot.”
Conrad’s mother, a homemaker, spent her time both inside, maintaining the home and tending the children, and outside, working the garden from which she canned many vegetables.
“She was really good with gardening and canning,” he said. “I didn’t take much interest in it when she did it, but now my wife and I do it.”
Over the years, the landscape of the farm has changed, with old structures being brought down, and new ones put up. According to Conrad, four houses have been built on the property, and multiple outbuildings have been lost to history, including an old barn that burned down in 1979, the year it became a Century Farm. What has remained, however, is the history of four generations of Conrads and the remnant trunk of that grand old maple tree.

Newest farm equipment models now on display

Harvest is complete, snow is on the ground and it’s that time of year when producers are checking out 2020 models of farm equipment.
A wide selection of the latest farm equipment and technology will be on display Jan. 22 to 24 during the annual Sioux Falls Farm Show at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, Event Center and Arena. Over 320 exhibitors and more than 1,000 product lines will be on display during the event.
Similar events are going on all over the country during the month of January.
On a smaller scale and closer to home, Nate Janssen, product specialist with C & B Operations, has been taking John Deere’s new 8RX tractor on tour to show it to farmers in Minnesota and Iowa. About 15 area farmers gathered at C & B Operations in Pipestone Wednesday morning, Dec. 11 to check out the new tractor.
“The biggest change is coming up with a four track machine in a row crop form, so it’s essentially like a front wheel drive tractor with four tracks,” Janssen said. “It’s the only fixed-frame, four-track tractor available from a manufacturer.”
Janssen said the 8RX has the pulling power and flotation of a track tractor and the maneuverability of a wheel tractor.
“This one as it’s set up actually has a tighter turning radius than a wheeled machine does,” he said.
During a roughly 90-minute presentation, Janssen discussed and showed videos about everything from the tracks and technology of the machine down to the refrigerator and add-on accessories to hold beverages and technology devices. Those in attendance then had a chance to get down under the tractor and climb up into its cab to take a closer look.
Jeff Wacker, store manager at C&B Operations in Pipestone, said the store hosts product introductions a couple times a year, inducing an open house in the spring and whenever new products are released. He said the new year models of farm equipment become available late in the fall.
Some of the farmers who attended the presentation, including Harvey Musch who farms east of Pipestone, and Mark Berkland  who farms near Volga, S.D., said they enjoy going to equipment shows such as the Sioux Falls Farm Show and presentations like the one at C & B Operations.
“It’s always fun to see what’s out there and what’s new and what their changes are,” Musch said. “It’s very educational.”
Musch and Berkland said they were there to learn about the 8RX and that it was a nice looking machine, but neither said they were interested in buying one.
“My son might be,” Musch said. “He has a tendency to adapt to these newer concepts faster than the old guys.”
Some farm equipment industry reports are forecasting that farmers as a whole might be less interested in buying new equipment as well as increased dealer uncertainty in 2020 due to struggles faced by farmers this year. Information released by John  Deere at the end of November about the company’s 2019 earnings and 2020 forecasts showed that the company anticipated sales of agricultural equipment in the U.S. and Canada to be down about 5 percent in 2020 due to lower demand for large equipment.
“Lingering trade tensions coupled with a year of difficult growing and harvesting conditions have caused many farmers to become cautious about making major investments in new equipment,” said John C. May, chief executive officer of John Deere, in the statement.
Berkland and Musch said those factors definitely weigh on farmers’ minds and present challenges when they’re considering making large purchases.
Wacker said he foresees that new equipment sales might be flat and used equipment sales might increase in 2020.