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Minnesota Farmer Sees Present and Future Benefits to Improving Soil Health

Minnesota Farmer Sees Present and Future Benefits to Improving Soil Health

Each morning, before heading out to work on his farm, Shawn Feikema pauses to ask himself two questions. How can he do more with less and how can he pass this to the next generation better than it was when he got it?

His answers form his guiding principles of how he runs his 7,000-acre row crop and cattle operation in Luverne, Minnesota, along with his uncles and his brother. Feikema and his brother, Mike, are the third generation of farmers managing what has grown into a sprawling operation since their grandfather started it in 1950.

They now grow thousands of acres of corn, soybeans, small grains, and hay along with operating a large cattle feedlot that markets about 6,000 head of cattle a year. The operation’s size and the family legacy they are working to uphold creates pressures Feikema says they carry with them every day and influence every decision they make on the farm.

Feikema said he has always heard it is the third generation that struggles the most to keep a family farm going. He isn’t sure why that is the case, but he and his brother are committed to not just keeping it going but setting up the next generation for success as well.

Changing How They Farm

Those twin pressures reached a crescendo in 2014 when changing weather patterns forced them to look at their operation and decide whether to continue farming the way they always have or make radical changes to protect it for the future.

“We're dealing primarily with soil and we're feeding our animals with the soil. The soil doesn't change or do anything quickly,” Feikema said. “So, we just have to think long-term. You have to be able to spot things that are not maybe going in the right direction and make a change and be patient enough to wait for that change to show up and just have the faith that you're doing the right thing.”

The decision to change was not without immediate risks, but guided by their faith, their love for the land and a desire to leave it better for the next generation they went forward and haven’t looked back.

Up until 2014 they were largely a conventional tillage operation. They left residue on the field, but it proved to be inadequate as they were beset by multiple rain events which, Feikema said, caused major erosion issues on their fields.

“It was just kind of one of those years where my brother and I and my uncle kind of just sat around the table and said 'There's got to be a better way. There's got to be something we can do that's different, that's better,'” Feikema said.

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Photo Credit: gettyimages-sasiistock

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Categories: Minnesota, Livestock, Beef Cattle, Weather

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