Climate Conversation: Generational Regeneration

Farmers possess a kind of ground-level common sense that seems increasingly rare in today’s fast-paced, technologically-driven world. Farmers develop this common sense from a real, experiential understanding of their land. Mike Krause is one farmer who not only understands the generations’ worth of knowledge behind his family farm, what the land has been through, and what it needs to continue to be healthy and profitable, but also how his farming practices impact the larger world beyond his property.

Krause owns 800 acres near Utica in southeastern Minnesota. He has about 500 acres in corn, soybeans and hay. He also rents out 100 acres of pasture to another farmer and has around 200 acres of woods. His grandparents moved to the property in the 1940s and started farming with hogs and dairy cows.

Eventually, the family quit dairying and by the time Krause’s dad was involved with the farm, hogs, beef cows and crops were the main commodities being raised on the land. When Krause himself was a teenager, he began farming with his dad. He took a break to attend college for a few years, but since his return, he’s been farming on the same land his grandparents started with almost 80 years ago.

Krause has a deep understanding of his farm, based on a lifetime of firsthand experience and two generations of family history before that. This intimate knowledge has kept him aware of how changes in weather and climate, both on and off the farm, have impacted his own farming practices.

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When he saw a need on his farm to, as he puts it, “try to do more to prevent erosion,” Krause set out to learn more about soil health. He understood that improving soil health could go a long way toward not only preventing erosion and building the long-term resiliency of his land, but also ultimately increasing his yields.

In order to learn how to go about accomplishing these goals, Krause attended a couple of Land Stewardship Project field days last year. These experiences, combined with reading and research, experiments with no-till, improvements in machinery, and some number-crunching, have prepared him to try cover cropping. He’s excited to start building his soil in this way on 30 or 40 acres, and then expanding from there.

Soil health benefits and the productivity of his land are not the only reasons the farmer feels it is important to use cover crops, however. Krause recognizes that the frequency and intensity of erosive rainfall events have increased in the past 10 or 15 years, and he cites climate change as the reason for these increases. He understands that these events exacerbate the area’s erosion problems and are making it necessary for farmers to adopt methods like cover cropping in order to keep soil in place. But Krause also sees these changes as an opportunity for farmers to contribute to the larger collective solution to climate change.

In fact, he has a hard time understanding why some farmers still think climate change is a hoax. Once again, Krause relies on his common sense, pointing out that looking at a graph of temperature increases in the past 30 years makes the reality of climate change both scientifically obvious and simple to understand. The farmer notes that a steady growth in temperature readings that should normally take thousands of years is now happening in a matter of decades.

“Something is definitely going on there, and it’s definitely related to the release of carbon and the burning of fossil fuels,” he says.

The farmer also understands the complex relationship between humans and fossil fuels, and most importantly, the enormous benefits building soil health and using cover crops can provide farmers while stabilizing the climate.

“We got on this cycle with carbon-based fuels; it’s a hard cycle to break, but…for the health of the planet, it’s going to have to be changed somehow,” he says.

Mike thinks cover crops are one way to make this change. If we’re storing more carbon in the ground through the use of cover crops, he notes, we’re not only mitigating climate change, but we’re also producing fewer greenhouse gases since the resulting healthy soil requires less intense tillage, and thus less fuel to manage.

Building soil health and implementing cover crops makes a debate about climate change unnecessary. When done right, these practices help farmers reduce costs and increase yields, all while protecting their farmland for future generations.

Mike Krause is in the process right now of ensuring that his farm will not wash away, and will continue to produce profitably for still more generations of his family. In the end, his contribution, along with those of others like him, will also help to mitigate the global challenge of our time—climate change—and will make this challenge less burdensome for our grandchildren.

Krause has a small granddaughter. She’s still too little to have the faintest understanding of climate change, but that’s no excuse for the rest of us. Maybe she will be the fifth generation of his family to farm the Krause land one day. Wherever she’s living and whatever she’s doing, her grandpa will have made his farm, and our climate, more stable, healthy and resilient.

Lynnea Pfohl has been an LSP intern, staff member and volunteer in the organization’s southeastern Minnesota office. She also served on LSP’s Winona County Organizing Committee.