Perkins family to be honored for efforts on rural Worthington, Minn., land

WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- Jerry and Terry Perkins, along with their daughter, Julie Lopez, will be recognized next month during the Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation District's annual convention as Nobles County's Outstanding Conservationists. Th...

Julie Lopez (left) stands with her parents, Terese and Jerry Perkins, on their land north of Worthington. The family was selected to represent Nobles County as outstanding conservationists at the Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation Districts convention in early December. (Special to the Daily Globe)

 WORTHINGTON, Minn. - Jerry and Terry Perkins, along with their daughter, Julie Lopez, will be recognized next month during the Minnesota Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual convention as Nobles County’s Outstanding Conservationists.

The Perkins family has practiced conservation efforts on their rural Worthington farm for decades and their renter, Tim Hansberger, continues to maintain them. In July, the Perkins family and Hansberger each earned certification through the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality program.

“We had already done everything to qualify, so it was just a matter of filling out the application,” said Jerry. “I think if we can be ahead of the curve in regulation, it will be less painful and probably the more appropriate thing to do for the environment.”

The Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District’s board of managers nominated Jerry and Terry for the honor.

“The Perkins ... have done multiple trials with cover crops. They do minimal tillage and they have been Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality certified,” said Nobles SWCD Manager John Shea. “Jerry also served on the SWCD years ago. He’s just always been a conservation-minded producer.”


Jerry and Terry, who farm in Elk Township, enrolled their first acres in the Conservation Reserve Program more than 30 years ago. Then, when the Heron Lake Watershed District began offering incentive programs for farmers to implement best management practices (BMPs) a decade later, the couple signed on.

“That’s the main reason, I think, all of our sensitive areas are protected,” Jerry said.

With the north branch of Elk Creek running through the Perkins farm, Jerry and Terry have established permanent easements through the Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) program, which takes marginal land out of production. Over the years, the family has enrolled nearly 80 acres in RIM - the first piece being a 2.5-acre parcel Julie and her brother, Michael, established in the 1980s. The other two parcels - each more than 30 acres in size, one in Section 10 and the other in Section 11 of Elk Township - were enrolled in RIM more recently.

“We’ve got some rather extensive areas in CRP and, down the road, we don’t know if they’ll qualify,” Jerry said, alluding to the potential for more of their land to be placed in perpetual easement. Until that happens, they hope to keep the land enrolled in CRP.

“CRP is a money source - if you have a crop failure you still have something,” Jerry said. “It’s guaranteed income. It’s just part of diversification. You take your poorest producing land out of production. Especially when margins are thin, it makes economic sense. Most of the time over the 30 years, the payments have been near the going rate - or enough that I think it makes sense.”

While the CRP is seeded to grasses, the RIM parcels are seeded into a 25-species mix, which includes pollinators. The mix has produced a colorful array of flowers from early spring through late fall.

In addition to the RIM acres, Jerry and Terry have long practiced the use of cover crops in their farming operation.

“We were trying to use cover crops following oats or wheat, where we could get it in early enough, and then seed it to soybeans,” Jerry said.


“It wasn’t called cover crops back then,” Terry quickly added.

Jerry and Terry were recently part of a grant program administered by the Heron Lake Watershed District - and funded by the National Wildlife Federation - to study the use of cover crops and the impact those crops have on soil health and water infiltration. Though the grant program has ended, there was enough money to continue the study for another year.

Cover crop seeding in a corn-soybean rotation has its challenges, and the Perkinses and fellow cover crop supporters have tried everything from seeding via a helicopter, a fixed-wing aircraft and, this year, a Hagge High Boy sprayer equipped with a seeder that could distribute seed below the corn and soybean canopy.

Jerry and Terry also practice strip tillage after corn and no-till after soybeans.

“In about 1973 we had an energy crisis in the country. Fuel prices went up considerably,” Jerry said of their entry into no-till. He was at a workshop at the University of Minnesota’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center at Lamberton when the center’s director at the time, Wally Nelson, spoke about no-till following a corn crop.

“He said you could probably no-till corn but it would probably take 40 pounds more of nitrogen,” Jerry recalled. “So we started out no-tilling corn and thinking that no-tilling soybeans wouldn’t be very feasible, just because of all the corn residue.

“In 1990, we bought a no-till drill and started no-tilling our soybeans,” he said. “That, in many ways, is easier that trying to no-till corn.”

Jerry said the use of strip tillage and no-till, as well as cover crops, have shown to be beneficial for improving water infiltration, and there is now new information that points to better soil health as well.


“There’s … at least a hypothesis, if we can have living roots in the soil for longer periods of time, we can change and maintain favorable numbers of microbes in the soil,” Jerry said. “That’s what kind of intrigues us.”

“We’ve been at cover crops too short of time to know what all the benefits - the cost benefits are - but we’re encouraged,” he added.

Other steps the Perkinses have taken to implement conservation practices on their farm include the installation of tile control structures, rock inlets, grassed terraces and a water diversion project. They are also enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program.

“I think it’s worthy of farmers trying (conservation) on a small scale and it must be done more than one year to see the benefits - it must be done multiple years” Jerry said. “It’s been pretty well verified that we can maintain production (yields) and reduce costs.”

Having grown up with conservation-minded parents, Julie said her parents were terrific role models in their approach to sustainable agriculture.

“I would like to continue with their efforts,” she said. “I would like to see (these practices) more widely embraced by people of my generation and those younger than me.”

Julie is serving in her third year on the Heron Lake Watershed District’s Advisory Committee. She said she has learned a lot about the watershed, and hopes to see more minority involvement and more women involved in such committees.

The Perkinses say being honored as the county’s outstanding conservationists is humbling.


“There are many efforts out there,” said Terry.

Jerry, meanwhile, has mixed emotions about the honor.

“It’s nice to operate under the radar, especially with these (agriculture and conservation issues), but it’s also rewarding to be recognized,” he said.

What To Read Next
Get Local