Dale Schock and his son, Andrew, take conservation seriously and have proven this by the many
decisions that they've made on their land to protect water quality and to prevent soil erosion.
Because of their determination to practice conservation, the farming operations of both Dale Schock
and Andrew Schock were certified in 2018 as protecting water quality in Minnesota's Ag Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), according to a news release from the Soil and Water Conservation District.
Farmers from across Minnesota are eligible to participate in this four-year-old, voluntary program. The ranks of Minnesota's Water Quality Certified farms include small farms as well as large farming operations and represent a diversity of crop and livestock production - including corn, soybeans, wheat and other small grains, hay, pasture, cattle, hogs, dairy cows and more.
Dale and Andrews' farms are in south central Wadena County, where they produce corn, soybeans, wheat, black beans and other edible beans. They both understand that a system of several conservation practices is needed to protect the water and the soil, and, as a result, they have implemented the following conservation practices:
• Irrigation Management Techniques: Dale Schock and Andrew Schock operate their center pivot irrigation systems so that nitrogen loss is prevented and energy is conserved, and they have converted their irrigation systems to low-pressure systems that use drop nozzles. The Schocks participate in the Irrigation Scheduling Program through the Wadena Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD), and SWCD staff have used the 'Irrigation Management Assistance Tool' as they assist the Schocks with their irrigation management. The Schocks excellent management of their irrigation systems prevents leaching loss of nitrogen into the groundwater.
• Careful Fertilizer Management: The Schocks are careful to use Best Management Practices (BMP's) in the application of nutrients needed for growing their crops. These practices prevent loss of nitrogen and phosphorus to groundwater and to surface water. The Schock's utilize multiple, split applications of nitrogen fertilizer, including starter fertilizer, two top dress applications, and multiple fertigation application on their farms. This practice of 'spoon feeding' nitrogen means that it is applied at times when the corn and wheat crops most need this nutrient. No nitrogen fertilizer is applied in the fall on the Schocks' fields. When livestock manure is applied, the application rate is based on lab analysis of the manure and on soil test values. The Schock's utilize grid soil sampling on their farms on a 2.5 acre per sample basis and then carefully apply nutrients accordingly.
• Conservation Tillage: Very important to the Schocks is the use of conservation tillage and reduced fall tillage on their land. They perform no fall tillage after soybean harvest or wheat harvest; they also minimize fall tillage after potato harvest. In this way, significant levels of crop residue (stalks and stubble) remain on the soil surface for much of the year, which prevents soil erosion that can be caused by wind or rain. With soil erosion controlled, very little soil sediment leaves the Schocks' farms and water runoff rates are greatly reduced. The result is that streams, ponds, wetlands, and lakes are protected from eroded soil sediment. The Schocks are also exploring the options of no-till farming and strip-till farming on their land.
• Cover Crops: Dale and Andrew both plant cover crops, such as cereal rye grain, after harvest of soybeans, black beans and other edible beans, and potatoes. They have also planted cover crops after corn harvest. Cover crops provide growing vegetation and roots in the soil for an extended period of the growing season. This reduces soil erosion, slows runoff water, holds nutrients in the soil (prevents nutrient loss by leaching), and increases soil organic matter.
• Grass Filter Strips: The Schocks have established grassed filter strips and riparian buffer strips along the river, streams, wetlands, and ponds on their farms. This perennial vegetation slows water runoff, traps sediment and nutrients, reduces streambank erosion, and provides wildlife habitat.
• Conservation Programs: Dale and Andrew participate in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
They also participate in the Guided Stalk Sampling program and other nitrogen management programs, as well as the Irrigation Scheduling Program, offered through the SWCD or the MDA.
By using this combination of conservation practices, the Schocks protect surface water and
groundwater, prevent loss of valuable topsoil, and conserve these resources for future generations.
These conservation-minded decisions enable their farms to be Water Quality Certified. Because these principles are important to the Schocks, Andrew spoke about the important decisions that farmers make to protect water quality when he participated in the 2018 State of Water Conference at Breezy Point Resort.
Andrew says, "Decisions that farmers make that are profitable and sustainable economically are the
same decisions that serve natural resources. Farmers want to prevent the loss of soil caused by wind or water, and they want to protect the water. I believe the vast majority of farmers use many of the same conservation practices that we do. Unfortunately, the few farmers that don't do everything they could get the attention."
Andrew continues, "For farmers to practice conservation on their land, it's not something that can be
painted with a broad brush - it's not a 'one size fits all' approach. Conservation practices need to fit
with each specific farming operation and its crop rotation, soil types, and the topography of those
Farm operators and owners throughout Minnesota are eligible to be involved in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program. "This program is an excellent way for farmers to tell the story of the good things they are doing to protect water quality, as well as explore use of new conservation
practices," said Jim Lahn, the program's area certification specialist, who works with the program in 11 counties in north central Minnesota. Producers interested in learning more can contact their local Soil & Water Conservation District office or Jim Lahn at 218-457-0250.