My husband Mike and I are moving into management of his family’s fourth generation farm. We live in an area where there’s been major declines in successful farming thanks to outdated federal guidance from the 1970s to “farm fencerow to fencerow,” which prioritized yield to pad the bottom line of agribusinesses, and set small and mid-sized farms up for failure. Folks in our area sold their herds and went all-in on commodity crop monocultures, making them dependent on buying and hauling in more herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. Extra expenses and the loss of livestock products to sell left them over-exposed to the volatility of commodity markets. Four of seven family farms from our section of Helena Township don’t exist anymore.
We’re returning fences and livestock to the farm, because we’ve seen how manure that accumulates an environmental hazard when handled wrong, is a source of on-farm fertility for us, driving a holistic system that cycles carbon in place. We started planting cover crops three years ago, dropping our input costs since we don’t waste money applying cookie-cutter recommendations for synthetic fertilizers. Instead, cover crops keep water and nutrition our cash crops need in the soil, visibly slowing runoff and erosion while proving it's economically possible for diversified operations to serve their neighbors. Without the cost-sharing program and technical assistance from the Scott County Soil and Water Conservation District, we couldn’t have started this practice even despite knowing full well what the benefits were. Now we don’t need the cost sharing, we’ve added species to our cover crop mix and increased the variety of cash crops in rotation. Thanks to that initial momentum to help us change course we’re on a better track and there’s no looking back. Farmers who serve the public good deserve to have all the resources they need to do the work. Right now, they don’t. That’s why we need the Incentivizing 100% Soil Healthy Farming Bill currently under consideration in the Minnesota Legislature.
Farmers are caretakers and entrepreneurs who mitigate a staggering array of risks, choosing carefully where to invest our limited resources. We lost a great on-farm dairy store 5 miles from us where we bought milk and cream in reusable glass bottles because of skewed public policies. Smart policies like Soil Healthy Farming form a scaffold to build back rural infrastructure in communities across the country while ensuring good stewardship of land, and water resources. We deserve to have this bill passed and fully funded because this is the kind of economic rejuvenation rural communities need. Multinational agribusinesses and other overly-merged and precariously consolidated corporations have their narrative of what’s needed but the people who work the ground know where the rubber meets the road. When you want to dig in and learn what succeeds both economically and ecologically ask those of us doing the work, we love to talk about our land and our communities.