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Published April 26, 2010, 12:28 AM

Minnesota farmers talk about conservation efforts

Jim Knips of rural Lismore marks his 30th year on the Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District board of directors next year, but perhaps what is more impressive is that his family’s history on the board dates back to its inaugural year in 1955.

By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe

LISMORE, Minn. — Jim Knips of rural Lismore marks his 30th year on the Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District board of directors next year, but perhaps what is more impressive is that his family’s history on the board dates back to its inaugural year in 1955.

Jim’s grandfather, Alvin Knips, was a charter member of the board after helping to get it organized in 1953. His son, Donald, took over the post from his dad in 1956 and served the SWCD for the next decade. The third-generation family farmer, Jim, was elected to his first term in 1980.

“Back when my grandfather got on the board, there was considerable erosion — lots of gullies,” said Jim Knips. “I think it was obvious to my grandfather and dad that something had to be done.”

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, prior to conservation tillage practices, Knips said a lot of dirt ended up in the ditches because of wind and runoff.

“I think it was a no-brainer to protect the topsoil and solve some of the problems,” he said of the reduced tillage method.

Knips, like all four of the other farmers who serve on the Nobles County SWCD board, practices what he preaches when it comes to conservation.

“I have contours, terraces, waterways, a farm pond and field windbreak,” said Knips. His field windbreak consists of nearly 150 ash and maple trees that stretch for about half a mile to the north of his farm site. In addition, approximately 60 acres are farmed in contours, while the pond and waterways account for another five to six acres.

The first conservation practice implemented on the Knips farm was strip farming.

“After that, my dad was one of the first to put terraces on the land and adopt contour farming,” he said. “We live in an area of gently rolling ground where there is a lot more evidence of gullying and field erosion.”

Since Knips took over the farming operation, he has continued to implement conservation practices in stages. His latest project was rebuilding the waterways that were initially constructed in the 1970s.

Though he still practices the contour farming methods first implemented by his dad, Knips has since moved into no-till practices on his soybean acres.

“The key is retaining that good topsoil,” he said. “Topsoil is something that is not recreated in a week. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for your generation.”

As any farmer understands, topsoil is the key to their living, said Knips.

Though Nobles County has good participation in conservation practices, there’s always room for improvement. Knips said he encourages producers to look at practices — especially those that are both economical and beneficial, such as no-till.

“(No-till) saves quite a bit on fuel and labor, and holds the topsoil as well,” he said. “I haven’t seen much of any reduction in yield from no-tilling beans.”

In fact, thanks to the implementation of some conservation practices, he’s actually seen a boost in crop yields.

“The field windbreak has definitely increased the productivity of my lighter ground,” said Knips, adding that the trees have increased the water-holding capacity.

There are other benefits to conservation practices as well that, while they may not boost the pocketbook, add to the quality of life.

“With the farm pond, we’ve seen more wildlife — ducks, geese and deer in the area,” Knips said.

In his 29th year on the Nobles SWCD board, Knips said he appreciates the programs available to landowners to help conserve their soil and resources.

“SWCDs have really benefited the agricultural area by bringing money into the county and managing beneficial practices,” he said.

The SWCD board oversees the staff and manages the cost-share money that comes from state and federal agencies.

<>The Worthington Daily Globe and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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