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Jirik Family Farms named as Rice County’s top conservationists of 2022

The operation is run by Jim Jirik, who worked for the National Resource Conservation Service for 35 years and his son, Joe Jirik, who now works for the LeSueur County Soil And Water Conservation District.

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Jim and Joe Jirik stand with barrels they've filled with harvested maple syrup this year on April 8, 2022, in Kilkenny, Minnesota.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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KILKENNY, Minn. — Jirik Family Farms of rural Kilkenny has been selected by the Rice Soil and Water Conservation District as the 2022 Outstanding Conservationists for Rice County. 

The Jiriks will be honored at the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Annual Convention this December, according to a press release, along with other award winners from across the state. The award recognizes individuals, organizations or others for outstanding accomplishments in implementing conservation practices and improving Minnesota’s natural resources.

The Jirik Family Farm is located in the headwaters of the Cannon River Watershed, where water flows into several lakes before it flows into the Mississippi River at Red Wing. The family's choices to conserve soil, prevent erosion, and improve water quality positively affect many downstream in the watershed.

“We need to take care of our resources, whether it's trees or soils or wildlife so that we can continue to use them in the future,” said Jim Jirik. “If we lose the productivity of our soils, that is very hard to get back. Our resources are fragile and if we want to have them in the future, we have to be sustainable.”

Jirik, and his son, Joe, run a 70-head cow/calf beef operation while also growing organic crops, harvesting honey and producing maple syrup. The Jiriks have a long history of working with the Rice SWCD and Faribault NRCS Field office, and for over 40 years they have been implementing conservation practices on their farm.

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The practices

The Jiriks installed an ag waste system in their barnyard to store manure and prevent runoff, and they pasture their beef cattle and use rotational grazing to reduce erosion and maintain quality forage for their animals. The family has also installed fencing to keep their cattle out of a stream that passes through the pasture. 

In addition to utilizing manure and nutrient management to efficiently apply nutrients to their crops, the Jiriks park their plow in the fall to reduce soil erosion on their land and use cover crops on some of their cropland acres. Grassed waterways, sediment basins and a system of contour terraces also protect the soil from erosion.

Joe Jirik, a district technician for the LeSueur County Soil And Water Conservation District, said that adding conservation techniques on the farm is not always easy. 

“We've done a lot of native prairie plantings and we're in some easements, and took some land out of production through CRP and some other programs,” said Jirik. “In the last three or four years, we’ve really tried to do more cover crop stuff and no-till stuff, and integrate that into our organic operations — so it's kind of been tough, but we're learning. I guess that's part of the reason why we got the award, is we're trying to do new things.”

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Jim Jirik of Jirik Family Farms accepts the 2022 Outstanding Conservationist Award for Rice County.
Contributed / Tara Langevin, Rice County Fair

Other implements are also used to control weeds including a flamer, which burns weeds off with fire, and a weed zapper which kills weeds through an electrical charge of 15,000 volts. And a system of terraces protects a field from gully erosion 

Where the Jiriks tap around 3,000 maple trees each year to produce their maple syrup, the forest land is managed through the Forest Stewardship Program and 70 acres of their woodlands are permanently protected from development through the Forest Legacy Program.

In addition to forest land, the Jiriks have 70 acres of prairie and wetlands restored on their property through the ReInvest in Minnesota program. This restoration provides high-quality habitat for wildlife and pollinators, including 108 bee colonies.

After watching his father retire from the National Resource Conservation Service after a 35-year career, Joe Jirik decided to follow in similar footsteps because that’s what he knew best. 

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“I grew up with a mentality for trying to do the right thing,” said Joe Jirik. “When I was a kid, I pounded in posts to do rotational grazing, and I didn't know what I was really doing at the time, but I saw that it made sense to move the cattle more than once a summer, you know. That was one that was probably my first realization on it.”

Joe Jirik recommends that farmers interested in getting into conservation get advice through an individual like himself, working with the local SWCD.

“We usually take a look at the whole farm operation, and figure out where pieces will fit, and what needs to change to achieve a more conservation minded goal,” said Joe Jirik. “We're honored to win the award, but we feel like we've got a long ways to go.”

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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