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New Land Stewardship Project billboards use humor, quotes to promote soil health

The billboards made their debut this month near the Minnesota communities of Austin, Spring Valley, Fountain, Preston, Dexter, Grand Meadow and Minnesota City.

A billboard near Austin, Minnesota, features a farmer’s bare legs and the phrase, “Don’t Farm Naked: Plant Cover Crops"
A billboard near Austin, Minnesota, features a farmer’s bare legs and the phrase, “Don’t Farm Naked: Plant Cover Crops." The Land Stewardship Project hopes the billboard grabs attention and inspires people to plant cover crops.
Contributed / Land Stewardship Project
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When is farming naked a good idea? According to a new billboard by the Land Stewardship Project — never.

The Land Stewardship Project's most recent billboard campaign promotes the power of building healthy soil. The billboards made their debut this month near the Minnesota communities of Austin, Spring Valley, Fountain, Preston, Dexter, Grand Meadow and Minnesota City. 

The billboards feature photos and quotes, and in the case of one revealing sign, a little bawdy humor, to get across the benefits of utilizing soil health techniques like cover cropping, rotational grazing, no-till and diverse rotations. 

LS
The Land Stewardship Project hopes its new billboards on soil health topics will attract attention and inspire new thoughts on farming practices.
Contributed / Land Stewardship Project

Shona Snater, who directs LSP’s soil health program, said the campaign was inspired by the eight farmers who sit on the group’s Soil Builders’ Network steering committee. The Soil Builders’ Network is made up of over 800 farmers and others located across southern Minnesota, as well as in northeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin. Members of the Network regularly come together via field days, workshops, pasture walks and Zoom calls to discuss various ways of building soil profitably.

According to a press release from LSP, this farmer-to-farmer networking, combined with other efforts on the part of government agencies and nonprofits, has led to an increase in the number of acres in the region that are managed using methods such as cover cropping. 

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During one recent five-year period, cover cropped acreage in Minnesota increased almost 42% to 579,147 acres, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. Most of the southeastern Minnesota counties in the heart of LSP's Soil Builders' Network region are showing cover crop adoption on more than 10% of farms, according to a Minnesota Department of Agriculture 2020 report.

“This increase in the use of soil healthy practices didn’t happen by accident,” said Snater. “There’s no doubt that farmers are inspired by and learn best from other farmers when it comes to innovative practices like cover cropping and rotational grazing.” 

Snater added that despite the increase in the use of soil building practices, in total only around 3% of Minnesota’s farm ground is cover cropped on a regular basis. 

“We have a lot more room to grow when it comes to acres that would benefit from these practices. As the 2022 growing season approaches, we’re hoping these billboards will spark more connections between farmers seeking to build soil profitably.”

In one case, a billboard posted near Austin could spawn a little laughter as well. The sign, which was posted in collaboration with Practical Farmers of Iowa, features a farmer’s bare legs and the phrase, “Don’t Farm Naked: Plant Cover Crops"

“Part of the message we’re trying to get across is that building healthy soil is not only good for the land and a farmer’s bottom line, but is a fun way to take control and build resiliency when it comes to raising crops and livestock,” said Snater.

Strong reaction

Brian DeVore, communications manager for LSP, said this is the first time the organization has used billboards for a campaign. He said there are seven total billboards.

DeVore said the signs have gotten "hundreds" of shares and comments on social media.

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"We've had a lot of people commenting, and sharing them on social media, with very positive reaction," he said. "There's something about the positive nature of it, that people really react to."

He said as a result, that's brought a lot of attention to their soil health page.

"One thing that's struck me, is how many farmers have said, man I'd like to have one of those signs up on my farm, where people could see it from a public road," said DeVore.

DeVore said LSP is hoping that with the growing season coming, the billboards might inspire some farmers to use some of the soil health practices.

"Maybe it'll get them talking about it more, and motivated," he said.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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