Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
The Novak family are hard-working, conservation-minded farmers in the northwest corner of Minnesota. They were recently honored at a University of Minnesota men’s hockey game, as the ‘Gophers Farm Family of the Game.’
Garrett and Andrea Novak, of St. Hilaire (six miles south of Thief River Falls) have four daughters: Natalie, 12; Miranda, 10; Aliyah, 7; and Bristol, 4. The two older daughters accompanied mom and dad to the game at Mariucci Arena, where Miranda won the coin toss and got to drive the Zamboni along with Goldy Gopher.
It’s just as well, because Natalie has already gotten lots of behind the wheel training: she was very proud to help out mom and dad by driving the grain cart alongside the combine this fall. The grain cart temporarily holds the soybeans, and then the corn, until they can be transferred to a semi, and trucked to grandma and grandpa’s bins for storage. This fall was the first time Natalie got to step into this esteemed role.
The Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the University of Minnesota—who partner to support the ongoing development of best management practices for agriculture—honored the Novak family for their conscientious approach to conservation.
“We have lighter, sandier soil, so we have to protect it from erosion,” says Garrett. They could be called early adapters. They were among the first in the area to start planting corn in the early 2000s, and now they are among the first in the region to try out a conservation tillage method called strip till. (A thin strip where the crop is planted gets cultivated, but the soil structure in the rest of the field is left undisturbed, resulting in numerous soil health benefits.)
“We did a little strip tillage this year and have never done that before,” says Garrett. “That particular field runs along a major highway here, and I did have a lot of traffic stopping. They hadn’t seen (strip till) in the area before….The strips look really good. We’ll plant corn into them next spring and see what happens.”
Another key conservation method involves the timing and the rate of application of fertilizer. The Novaks have worked for a number of years to refine their approach so that fertilizer goes on when and where it’s needed, resulting in less nutrient loss and also helping their bottom line.
“We do a lot of side-dressing, split applications during the growing season,” says Garrett. “In specific fields we set the rates of the nutrients differently, according to the soil type. This year, we finally implemented our zone system based on soil tests and soil types. It’s a way of placing the nutrients in the right places where it will be most effective.”
Read more about the conservation efforts of Minnesota farmers and MCGA’s partnership with Gopher Sports at KernelNation.com.