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Soil Conservation Award winners for Marshall County, South Dakota

July 28, 2010

[Source: Marshall County Journal]

Nestled on the edge of the Couteau Hills amongst majestic evergreen trees, the Dennis and Jean Fagerland farm of rural Langford looks like it could be the picture on a Christmas card.

But go back 29 years and the picture would have been quite different. The Fagerlands began planting those trees when they purchased the farm in 1981, and those plantings are just part of a conservation effort that has been recognized with a South Dakota Soil Conservation Award.

The South Dakota Legislature created the award program in 2008 to recognize exceptional farming and ranching practices that conserve soil and natural resources in the state. The Fagerlands are one of eight producers from around the state that have been recognized this year.

On Thursday the Fagerlands were recognized by local conservation officials with the presentation of a certificate and a recognition sign to be installed on the farmstead.
“The conservation activities of agricultural producers are often overlooked by the general public,” said Brian Scott, Natural Resource Specialist for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. “This award highlights their work and demonstrates that South Dakota producers can and do make a difference.”

“The restoration and preservation of wetlands, the recent addition of buffer strips, and their continuous stewardship of the land earned the Fagerlands the award,” said Wanda Franzen of the Marshall County Conservation District.

Fagerland grew up on a farm near Langford where conservation was always important.
“My Dad, Elmer, was always pretty conservation-minded, and Jean’s dad was always on the conservation board,” said Fagerland. “It’s taken a long time to get where we’re at, but bit by bit we’ve done a little each year.”

This year’s conservation honoree stressed that there is plenty of help for area producers interested in practicing sound conservation methods.

“You certainly want to take advantage of those programs that are out there to help, especially on the cost-sharing,” said Fagerland. “Most of the programs are available through the conservation district.”

Fagerland always planned to farm. When his father became sick in 1974 he left school at South Dakota State University to come back home and help and that same year was married to Jean. They purchased the farm owned by Eugene Elsner just a couple of miles from the home place in 1981.

Today the Fagerlands operate a farm of 2,200 acres of hay, grazing land, and cropland. Through the years they have adjusted their farming practices to conserve the soil and protect the wetlands that are part of their operation.

They maintain several acres of grassed waterways to prevent soil erosion and gully washing. On cropland acres they have planted alfalfa and perennial grasses as buffers around larger wetlands to reduce and filter cropland runoff.

In recent years Fagerland has switched to no-till farming on most acres to leave a large amount of residue to promote soil erosion and promote soil health. He has also converted most of the erodible cropland into grazing land by re-seeding a mixture of native and cool season grasses for rotational grazing use.

Fagerland manages a 170-pair livestock operation of Simmental/Angus, and he had inter-seeded warm season native grass into cool season grass so pasture paddocks can be rotated and utilized from early spring through late fall. Spillway boards are also used to hold water in several wetlands in early spring, capturing some nutrient runoff and providing wildlife nesting habitat.

“Rotational grazing has really helped with increased number of pairs per acre, increased weaning weights, and improved grass and pasture health,” said Fagerland. “We rotate every seven to 10 days and some of the pastures get seven to eight weeks rest between grazing. We kind of treat the pastures like our lawn, and it really helps the range land and has a lot of wildlife benefit, too.”

The watershed for the entire Fagerland operation runs through Alberts Lake. With assistance from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Marshall County Conservation District the couple has created a series of seven holding ponds and spillways that help filter feedlot and cropland runoff.

Fagerland has also put in some water sources instead of relying on sloughs for drinking water. He also plans to try a solar well in an area without electricity access later this summer.

One of the most visible and rewarding things they have done is planting several acres of trees.

“The tree plantings have probably been most rewarding and have really helped, especially where we are calving more cattle. Each year we hope to add a few more.”

Fagerland knows his conservation work will never be complete.

“There’s always something to do and I don’t think we will ever get quite done. We’ll leave that for the next generation to finish.”

The couple has two girls and three boys, and some of the kids have expressed interested in coming back although all are currently pursuing professional careers.

“The kids would like to see the place stay together, so we’ll see what happens. But for now we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. When you look at the real old shelterbelts and aren’t even sure who planted them, it motivates us to keep going with the hope that someone will appreciate what we are doing some day.”

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