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Award-winning farmer's passion switches from dairy to regenerative ag

The Janski farm at St. Cloud has been honored as Minnesota Conservationist of the Year.

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Daniel Janski speaks as part of a small-group discussion at the University of Minnesota Soil Management Summit on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Waite Park, Minnesota.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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WAITE PARK, Minn. — Dairying was Daniel Janski’s thing on the family farm near St. Cloud, Minnesota, but after a few years of no-till farming, regenerative agriculture is his new passion.

The Janski farm was recently honored as Minnesota's Outstanding Conservationist. Daniel Janski spoke about the farm’s conservation journey during the University of Minnesota’s Soil Management Summit in Waite Park on Dec. 15-16.

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Janski Farms south of St. Cloud, Minnesota, has been honored as the Minnesota Outstanding Conservationist by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. From left, brothers Daniel and Thomas Janski, their grandfather Bob Janski, parents Marlys and Rich Janski, and cousin Tyler Janski.
Courtesy Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District

As a youngster on the farm “when I'd walk fields, you know, nothing mattered but the crops that you were growing in the field,” Janski said. “When something went bad, you’d always blame nature. You didn't blame yourself.”

But now there is a realization that some of the farm practices were not the best for the long term health of the land. By reducing tillage and using cover crops and beef cattle grazing, some of the rocky land that only used to yield 50 to 70 bushel corn a few years later is yielding 150 bushel corn.

Janski has developed a greater appreciation for earthworms and pollinators.

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“You’re hearing these bees buzz around, it sort of feels rewarding that you know they're there because you changed your practices,” Janski said.

Janski said it was really his brother Thomas who was the instigator in giving no-till farming a try about six years ago.

“I don't think we would be no-tilling today if it wasn't for him,” Janski said. “He wanted to step outside the norm and try something new.”

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Dennis Fuchs, administrator of the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District
Jeff Beach / Agweek

Dennis Fuchs, administrator of the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District, said one of the reasons why the Janskis were nominated for the statewide award is because of their willingness to share what they have learned — successes and failures.

“They're not afraid to let folks know that it's not any easier and that mistakes can happen,” Fuchs said.

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Maddock Ranch has a commercial herd made up of 100 cows and feeds about 400 to 500 calves annually.

An example that Daniel Janski shared at the Soil Health Summit was how they planted soybeans into a rye cover crop, and the field was hit by cutworms, wiping out the field.

“They're learning more and as they learn, they're willing to share that,” Fuchs said.

The Janskis try to mimic the native prairie by planting about 25 different types of cover crops. But another mistake Janski said they made early on was adding rapeseed to that mix. What he didn’t know was that rapeseed is a very waxing plant and hard to kill with a herbicide.

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“We got to look at blooming flowers all summer and not corn,” Janski said.

Stearns County is known for its rocky ground, which is part of why it became a center for dairying in Minnesota.

Daniel Janski said he certainly doesn’t miss trying to till those rocky fields.

“We used to pick rocks 10 to 14 days a year so that's been eliminated,” Janski said.

For some fields, underneath a thin layer of topsoil, it was mostly sand and gravel. “Kick the topsoil off, throw a net up, you could play beach volleyball,” Janski said.

The first step on one of those tougher fields was to plant alfalfa. After three years of cutting it, they planted no-till corn into it. That field went from 50 to 70 bushels per acre to 150 bushel corn.

“So that was kind of an eye opener and for us that's where it started our journey,” Janski said.

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The Janskis planting no-till into a cover crop. Going to no-till and using cover crops has meant fewer trips across the field and better soil health for Janski Farms near St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Courtesy Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District

Going no-till has meant fewer trips with the tractor across the field, they need fewer seed treatments and the soil is better able to handle heavy rains.

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They also are making better use of the dairy operation manure, and grazing cattle has reduced their input costs. They mostly graze cattle on fields away from busy roads using a single strand wire fence that has been electrified by solar power.

“You got four-legged manure spreaders out there processing the feed, it’s pretty cool,” Janski said.

For the kid who loved the dairy operation, he now would like to graze more cattle.

“I’ve transitioned to have more of a passion toward regenerative farming,” Janski said. “So I hope to someday not have a dairy anymore and maybe more beef cattle roaming the land. I think that'd be fun to be grazing more cattle.”

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Rich Janski, left, and his son, Daniel Janski, center, talk with Dennis Fuchs of the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District in the dairy barn of the Janski farm south of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District

Janski was named Minnesota Outstanding Conservationist at the state Soil and Water Convention, where Bryan Malone, the leader of the Soil and Water Conservation District in Becker County and for the Red River Valley was named the 2022 Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District Employee .

The Janski farm, a four-generation farm with a 200 head dairy, 750 finishing steers and 4,000 acres of cropland, has hosted field days to share what they have learned.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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