On their family farm in Wells, Minn., Mark and Lea Nowak have over 6,000 feet of buffer strips along a large county drainage ditch that enters Walnut Lake and eventually flows into the Blue Earth River before ending up in the Minnesota River.
The buffers are 33 feet wide, twice as long as what the county recommended when they were installed in 2008.
“It’s nice to walk along and see that it’s keeping sediments and runoff out of the water,” Mark said.
Mark is a third-generation farmer who grows corn and soybeans. He also raised hogs for 36 years on his farm in Faribault County.
In addition to buffer strips, the Nowak’s have used a disc ripper for the last 25 years to till the corn residue left on their fields after harvest. This tilliage method keeps a lot of the residue on the field, where it helps hold the soil and reduce erosion while keeping organic matter in the ground for the following year’s soybean crop.
“We saw this was probably a better way,” Nowak said. “As farmers, we’re always looking and observing to see what we can do differently and do better.”
Common practices like tile drainage and fertilizer (nitrogen) application are necessary for today’s farms to stay in business and meet growing world demand for safe and affordable food, feed, fiber and fuel.
“There’s a compromise to everything we do out here,” Nowack said. “Things like tile drainage create more room in the soil before it becomes saturated and runs off the top. It’s all about continuing to find ways to do things better.”
When Mark and Lea walk across the bridge that runs over the drainage ditch near their fields, they see firsthand the results of what the buffer improvements did on their farm.
“We look at the water and it’s so clear and clean,” Mark said. “There’s no sedimentation settling into the ditch. It’s probably a lot cleaner than what people think based on what they’re reading in the newspaper.”