Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kim Samuelson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Education leads to change, and change leads to education


January 31, 2019

Provided photo

Steve and Kelly Risacher (both on right) receive the Carlton SWCD 2018 Soil Health Steward award from Barb Dahl, SWCD Supervisor (center) and Ryan Clark (on left).

Many of us like to keep our lives on an "even keel" without too much "rocking the boat." However, new ideas, new facts, new treatments all lead to new ways of doing things, to change, to "rocking the boat."

When faced with changing the way they have always lived, some people kick and scream and fight against changing. Others will change, but only after great and prolonged consideration and under much duress and distress.

However, there are also the very few who, after reasonable research, see the reasoning, embrace the change, and step forward to become "change agents," leaders to help others accept and implement change.

Cromwell/Wright area farmers Steve and Kelly Risacher are change agents in the field of farming. They are focused on effectiveness, improvement and development. They are leaders in the field of agriculture in Carlton County, and that's the reason they were chosen to receive the 2018 Soil Health Steward award by the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

The Risacher farm is a family farm with just 25 beef cattle. It's not a huge mega-farm, but it is a big operation for just one couple. Especially if they are very open to research of farm management changes, not only by book research but also by action. In fact, you can find the Risachers at many of the local and regional farmer workshops, always looking for ways not only to improve their farm, but to increase water quality and natural resource conservation.

Ryan Clark, Carlton SWCD's Specialist for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), worked with the Risachers for several years to get their farm MAWQCP certified. Through that process, they decided to change some of their farming methods in order to improve not only water quality, but also their farm's effectiveness and economics.

According to Clark, in order to receive MAWQCP certification, the Risachers "agreed to take their conservation ethic further by implementing a cover crop practice on all annual crop acres each season" (especially corn fields), as well as leaving a buffer "filter strip of perennial grass hay between all surface water features (wetlands, streams, etc.) and fields tilled into corn" and other crops. In addition to their cropland conservation work, the Risachers are also following a prescribed grazing plan on their pastures.

But they haven't stopped there. They are looking to shake up their old way of farming even more with even bigger changes.

Currently, they are "working on a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP)," added Clark. "This plan will look at soil tests and manure production on the farm to best calculate and utilize the proper manure application rates for water quality and agronomy." This CNMP will also explore "options for livestock shelter, watering options, and manure storage at the headquarters area."

In addition, the Risachers have been experimenting with cover crops and other soil health practices through a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant by working with assistance and guidance from Troy Salzer, Agricultural Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension (UM Ext). The goals set through this UM Ext project, according to Clark, are to help improve farm resiliency and soil health through "improving forage production, soil organic matter, soil biology, compaction, and water infiltration. Practices implemented for soil health include residue management-no-till and cover crops. Integrating livestock into the rotation on study fields was also important for improving soil health."

In this UM Ext project, the Risachers "tried a variety of farm practices while taking regular soil tests to examine effects of different tillage, seeding and fertilizer/soil amendments." All of these practices, tests and results were recorded and examined, and the results have been and will be measured against other similar projects. Farmers all over the country will benefit from the Risachers' project. In fact, they have already benefitted as they found that no-till with interseeding of an annual forage species was very successful for them.

The projects the Risachers have undertaken cover just about everything involved in farming life. These projects involve research and change in almost every aspect of farming life. They involve changes the Risachers are willingly embracing and seeking. Changes in how they think, live, and farm. Changes that will benefit other farmers in the future. Changes that are making the Risachers a "local leader" family helping to educate other farmers about resource conservation in farming.

Provided photo

Steve and Kelly Risacher with their MAWQCP certification sign at their farm.

Steve and Kelly Risacher are "always looking for ways to improve conditions on their farm, and conservation is on the top of their list." That's why they were selected as Carlton County's 2018 Soil Health Steward.

Carlton SWCD is proud of and excited by the work the Risachers are doing to advance not only conservation in farming and soil health in northern Minnesota, but also for being a change agent for farmers and conservationists around the country! Congratulations, Steve and Kelly!

Kim Samuelson is Carlton SWCD's elected supervisor for District 4. For more information about MAWQCP, soil health, and the annual Conservation Awards program, contact Carlton SWCD at 218-384-3891. You can also find more information about Carlton SWCD on Facebook or on their website at


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