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Conservation’s Calling

By Spencer Miller

Cover crops protect and enrich the soil at the Curt Trost Farm.
Cover crops protect and enrich the soil at the Curt Trost Farm.
One of two monitoring stations, installed by Discovery Farms Minnesota. By comparing runoff from adjacent areas, Discovery Farms will measure the impact of conservation practices.

One of two monitoring stations, installed by Discovery Farms Minnesota. By comparing runoff from adjacent areas, Discovery Farms will measure the impact of conservation practices.

Curt Trost feels a deep connection to the land. He's farming the same land his ancestors farmed in the 19th century.

Curt Trost feels a deep connection to the land. He’s farming the same land his ancestors farmed in the 19th century.

Curt's 9-year old grandson, Andrew, standing in cover crops. Curt's commitment to conservation ensures the land will be productive for future generations.

Curt’s 9-year old grandson, Andrew, standing in cover crops. Curt’s commitment to conservation ensures the land will be productive for future generations.

May 2, 2017 - The Curt Trost Farm has both a tradition and a future—and looks with pride and confidence in both directions. Turning setbacks into opportunities, Curt Trost found a deep connection to the land and embraced conservation.

Curt never intended to farm. Graduating from the University of Minnesota with a double major in economics and business management, he expected to become a banker. But an economic recession in the early 1980’s stymied his plans.

Since banks weren’t hiring, Curt went to work for his father, Cletus, who was a construction contractor. As they were building a retirement home for a farmer, the farmer asked if Curt had ever considered farming. “I told him I’d never even driven a tractor,” Curt said. But the idea struck a chord.

After talking it over with his family, Curt decided to make a leap of faith. He rented 300 acres from family, purchased much of the equipment from the retiring farmer and then began learning at a quick pace.

He read about farming, attended lectures at the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center, talked to his farmer father-in-law Wayne Kragh and visited adjacent farms, all the while studying his land to see how it responded.

“When we started out, in 1982, everyone plowed their corn crops,” said Curt. “The erosion shocked me. Other people seemed okay with it, but I couldn’t stand by watching the topsoil blow away.”

Curt realized that without conservation there could be no sustainability. “We have an average of 6 inches of topsoil. If we lose 1/64th of an inch each year, in just 400 years we’ll have no topsoil.”

Four centuries may seem like a long time, but to Curt, “it’s just a blink of the eye.” He feels a strong connection to his past and to the future.

The success of The Curt Trost Farm led to its expansion, from the initial 300 acres to about 1,600 acres today. Curt was especially excited to acquire land that was farmed by his ancestors in the late 19th Century.

“I’m working the family plot that they worked back in 1888,” said Curt. “There’s a small cemetery on the hill across the road. My great-great grandparents are buried there.” Curt farms metaphorically and literally in the shadow of his ancestors.

Curt also has an eye on the future. His son-in-law, Justin Morin, farms by his side. They farm adjacent land, sharing labor and equipment. “Farm programs should be tailored towards conservation,” Curt said. “We need to make sure we don’t run out of productive farmland.”

Curt is a proud advocate and exemplar of conservation, and today participates in the NRCS’ Conservation Stewardship Program, which rewards top-tier conservationists. Curt’s adoption of cover crops, nutrient management systems, drainage water management, integrated pest management, soil tests and pollinator habitat, make his farm a model of sustainability.

Recently, The Curt Trost Farm was selected for a research study. The state of Minnesota has a program called Discovery Farms Minnesota, which studies the impacts of different conservation practices on water quality.

Curt’s fields are spread across rolling hills. A hill partitions one of his fields, causing it to drain into two different watersheds. By installing monitoring equipment on each side of that field, Discovery Farms will find out how conservation practices impact water quality.

On one side of the test field, Curt uses no-till and cover crops; on the other, vertical till without cover crops. The monitoring stations will measure the quantity and content of the runoff flowing from each side after heavy rains. By quantifying the value of conservation, Discovery Farms hopes to persuade other farmers to adopt sustainable practices.

Eventually, Curt wants his entire farm to use cover crops and no-till. “Building organic matter in the soil is great. We want to help it grow.”

NRCS provides technical and financial assistant to help landowners adopt conservation practices. If you want to save time and money by adopting sustainable farming practices, getting started is easy.