Linders get state recognition
The desire to improve the health of the soil and reduce erosion led Linder Family Farms to make some changes in their operation beginning in 2014; changes which involved the use of cover crops and changing their tillage practices.
Five years later, Don Linder, his wife Nancy, their son Andy and his wife, Lindsay, were on hand in Bloomington when Linder Family Farms was recognized as the 2019 Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Outstanding State Conservationist.
The award was presented at the MASWCD’s annual convention held on Dec. 10.
They were nominated by the Faribault County Soil and Water Conservation District and then selected by the MASWCD awards committee as the Area 6 and state winner.
“I am the oldest of three kids in the family,” Andy says. “And I am the fifth generation to farm.”
The Linder farm, which is located south and west of Easton, began in 1866, according to Don, who has been farming for 42 years.
“Andy is actually the one who initiated the changes in our farming operation,” Don states.
Andy graduated from United South Central High School in Wells in 2004 and from South Dakota State with a degree in ag business in 2007.
“I did not want to spend any more time in college than I had to,” Andy says with a smile.
Networking with friends is how he learned about using cover crops and different tillage practices, according to Andy.
“I had an acquaintance I met through Ag Star,” he explains. “He was from the Albert Lea area and he told me about meetings a soil health team was conducting in Freeborn County.”
And for the younger Linder, seeing was believing.
“I dug in his soil, and it had a different structure to it,” Andy comments. “I decided those were the characteristics I wanted my soil to have.”
So the Linders implemented some tillage changes on their 800 acres of cropland.
“We compared aggressive tillage to minimum tillage,” Don explains. “We began seeing some positive results when we no-tilled into corn stalks for our soybean rotation. We now employ both no-till and strip-till for the corn rotation.”
The decision was also made by the Linders to give cover crops a try.
“The fall of 2014 was the first time we began using cover crops,” Andy remarks. “We interseeded cereal rye into soybeans.”
He explains the process for planting cover crops.
“Cover crops are sown into our corn and soybean fields around Labor Day with a high-clearance seeder,” Andy says. ” We have a three-crop rotation of corn, soybeans and small grains.”
They are still learning about what works best but are already forming some opinions.
“For weed suppression, we have found planting no-till beans and cereal rye the next spring does a good job,” Andy states. “We have also used turnips, rapeseed, winter triticale, different clovers and some warm-season grasses.
Harvesting the oats has created an additional source of income for the farm.
“We bale the straw,” Andy shares. “There has been a good market for small straw bales. When we are done baling we drill a cover crop into the ground.”
The change in their farming practices also led to a reduction in the equipment they needed to farm, thus reducing some capital costs.
“It was a slow transition. We do not need our conventional tillage equipment anymore,” Andy says. “Now the big pieces of equipment we need are a planter and a combine and heads. We own the combine with our neighbor Dale Stevermer.”
The Linders not only have made changes to their operation, they have become very involved in sharing their experiences with others.
“We have worked with the Faribault County SWCD, the Faribault County Soil Health Team and the Sustainable Farming Association,” Andy says. “We have spoken at meetings and have hosted field days at our family farm.”
The father son duo also began a new business.
“We started a cover crop sales and application business,” Andy shares. “Last year, 2019, I seeded more than 8,000 acres in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.”
Andy says he enjoys the change and challenges growing cover crops has brought him.
“Farming is not as mundane as it was. It takes a lot more thought,” he explains. “I have to study which crop I want on which farm and what chemicals I want to use this year based on what I want to plant next year. I also have to be thinking about the cover crop I want to grow based on what I will be planting next spring.”
The changes and improvements in their soils are sparking interest in others, according to the younger Linder.
“There are pockets of interest in the Easton area and the interest is growing,” he remarks.
In addition to raising crops, the Linders also have a 300-head barn for nursery pigs and custom-graze beef cattle on their cover crops for one of Andy’s friends.
And they keep searching for other ways to make improvements in their farming practices.
“We received certification from the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program and have installed buffer strips in a wooded area near the Blue Earth River,” Andy says. “We are also working with the University of Minnesota by providing an 11-acre pollinator plot for their bee researchers.”
He says he is still studying and investigating other methods to improve the farming operation.
“I have not been real interested in organic farming in the past,” Andy shares. “But the way we have been able to decrease the weed pressure in our fields by using cover crops may get me to reconsider.”
Andy and his wife Lindsay are now raising their three children, Cameron, Grace and Scarlett on the family farm he grew up on.
“The setup of the farming operation is nice because I have my own acres and I get to make my own call on what I want to do,” Andy says. “But it is nice to have my father’s support as I continue learning.”