CM: How did you become interested in conservation issues?
Bill: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of how humans impacted our environment. But it wasn’t until college that I fully recognized that worldwide population growth would someday intersect with finite resources. I studied Malthus and knew there was something to his “theory” which stated that out of control population growth would lead to shortages of everything in a finite planet. Since then his propositions have been discredited but now, in recent years, population experts are revisiting his position regarding unlimited growth and how it will impact limited resources. Conserving resources translates into consuming less and if we can agree on that we can hope to maintain the standard of living to which we have all become accustomed. Conservation is a huge subject that encompasses everything we humans do and affects every living organism on Earth. Unfortunately, not everyone of us “gets it”. The Industrial Revolution absolutely changed human life forevermore, with both positive and negative outcomes for human life and our planet. It is now, at this time in our history some 200 years after the change from human to machine power, that the environmentally negative impacts can be seen by anyone who is paying attention. Nothing could be more important to the sustainability of the benefits of modern living than conservation issues.
Nancy: When we began fruit and vegetable farming in partnership with my parents in 1977, the issue of soil conservation became paramount in my mind. Our farm lies on the southern tip of the Anoka sand plain and is very sensitive to cultivation, not only from the standpoint of caring for ultra-fragile soil, but also for prudent use of irrigation water. We much prefer natural rainfall to irrigation water, and as farmers, we can attest to a changing climate pattern. We could better depend on regular rainfall in 1977 than we can today. Conservation issues should be on the minds of all people everywhere.
CM: How do you incorporate your concern for Minnesota’s environment into your family business, Bauer Berry Farm?
Nancy: We have learned through experience that paying attention matters. We use minimal tillage wherever possible, we use irrigation water only when necessary, and we use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods in an effort to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. We have a specialty crop management consultant who provides us with invaluable information on how to monitor for insects that have the potential to negatively impact our crops. He also advises us to not use pesticides unless the threshold of crop loss is reached. Concern for the environment also includes the consumer, who must realize that not all fruit must be “perfect and blemish free”. This is a difficult concept for many Americans to accept, regardless of its accuracy.
Bill: We are also incorporating technologies that are by no means “new” but require due diligence on the part of farmers. I attended a recent conference at the University of Minnesota which taught the participants about the benefits of using cover crops in rotation with harvesting crops. As Nancy indicated, our farm is located on delicate soil with low organic matter. I learned at this soils conference how to protect and actually improve the capacity of our sandy soil to store water, replenish depleted crop nutrients and thrive on fewer commercial fertilizers. You asked how this impacts the business model of our farm, and one thing it means is that we need to purchase specialized implements that will allow us to plant cover crops grown from very small seeds with precision. Because we are beginning to use fewer passes through the fields with tillage equipment, we now find ourselves requiring a “no-till seeder” that will plant through sweet corn stalks or end of life-cycle strawberry plants. We look at equipment acquisition as embracing new technology rather than simply another expense. Anything good for the soil is good for us, for our customers and for the environment. Someone once said “it’s time to stop treating our soil like dirt.” I like that statement.
CM: Why do you choose to support Conservation Minnesota?
Nancy and Bill (we can always agree on this!): Our association with Conservation Minnesota dates back to a former name. Bill is a person who doesn’t like a lot of change in his life, and so he wasn’t enthralled when Conservation Minnesota adopted a new name. But it’s been a while and both of us have forgotten what the former name was! But the same principles apply: don’t take any of our resources for granted, EVER; make an extra effort to preserve and protect the bounty of resources we have here in Minnesota for the benefit of not just our small metropolitan farm, but for all Minnesota residents; and put into practice new things as better conservation methods pertaining to land, water, and air are developed. Conservation Minnesota embraces all of the things we believe in, so it’s easy for us to embrace Conservation Minnesota.