The legacy of farmer Jim Frederick lives on this growing season. He was known as a leader who listened, a business man who knew his economics, and conservationist who practiced what he preached.
Jim was serving as chairperson of the Farmer Led Council in the Whitewater River watershed when he died in December 2014. The council was the first of its kind in Minnesota, an effort that took fortitude to get off the ground and running. With a knack for befriending people and organizing projects, Jim was the ideal person to lead the effort.
The Whitewater River watershed is unique, with springs and cold-water streams supporting trout. Gently rolling hills give way to steep bluffs, limestone outcrops, sinkholes and caves. The area attracts tourists for fishing, hiking, camping, bird-watching and canoeing.
However, the waters suffer at times from too much sediment, nutrients and bacteria. As a tributary to the Mississippi, land practices here affect local waters and those downstream. This sensitive area requires a special kind of farming, one that Jim deeply understood and gently promoted.
He was born in 1945 in Rochester, graduated from St. Charles High School, and attended the University of Minnesota Business School. He spent most of his career working at HCC in Mendota, Ill., a manufacturer of agricultural harvesting and farm equipment. Like Jim, this company is known for its innovation and teamwork.
In 1998, Jim and his wife Rae moved back to St. Charles to his family farm where they grew corn, soybeans, alfalfa and beef cattle with conservation practices like crop rotation, grass waterways and fertilizer management. In fact, Jim was the first farmer in Olmsted County to receive certification in a volunteer water quality program with the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture.
Dan Brandt, a corn and soybean farmer from Eyota and member of the Farmer Led Council, has many fond memories of the time he spent with Jim. They even set up a display on the Main Street of Elgin during Cheese Days to reach people with their conservation ideas.
“We didn’t find anyone interested,” Dan remembered. “So Jim and I finally gave in and had a few beers and watched the tractor pull. Without Jim, I would have made it to the beer sooner. He was dedicated to the cause.”
He also said, “Jim was smooth. He was even-tempered and soft-spoken. He listened to your side of the story even if he thought you were clueless. He stayed the course when we first got started. I’m sure it was hard because we didn’t know if we were going to get this council off the ground.”
When the Farmer Led Council first was being organized, Jim noted that County Road 10 in Olmsted County was having some erosion issues due to highway construction work. He and Jerry Hildebrandt, conservationist at the time for the Whitewater Watershed Project, contacted the Olmsted County Highway Department and met with the county engineer. The three drove the entire reconstructed road, identifying areas that the county should fix.
“Jim’s rationale was that conservation responsibility does not rest only with the farmers. We all need to play a role,” Jerry said. “Jim was not only able to explain to others what can be done in conservation farming, but he followed it himself. He did recognize that there are great challenges to farming this area, but much can be done to farm in a manner that improves the watershed.”
According to Bill Reisdorf, council member and neighbor to the Fredericks, Jim continued to believe that fertilizer application rates could be reduced, even when others disagreed. He was “futuristic” and always thinking about a better way to be more efficient in his operation, Bill said.
Jim succeeded at chairing the council because he respected and encouraged others, never made anyone feel belittled or attacked. Instead, he would cleverly point out other options for consideration.
“Jim’s legacy is conservation farming to get clean water. Jim was committed to making that happen and was willing to take time out of his schedule to make that commitment. Jim never said ‘I don’t have time to do that.’ He was always an active player in organizing conservation tours, workshops and many other events,” Jerry said.
Arland Otte, a council member and farmer near Whitewater State Park, remembers that “Jim always had a twinkle in his eye, and did a great job of connecting with people. Jim was committed to seriously address farming issues and finding out how to make improvements”, he said.
Glen Haag, council member and farmer from Lewiston, said, “Jim promoted the concept that conservation is just as important as economics. A farm can be both conservation-friendly and well as economically sound. We need to pass that on.”
The Farmer Led Council continues, with Haag as chair. The members meet about four times a year, around their farming schedules, to review water monitoring data and discuss ways to reduce ag pollutants within their watershed. They decide on conservation incentives to promote to their neighbors. With farmers working with farmers to identify water quality problems and remedies, this council is leading the way to healthier waters.
Jim Frederick’s farm was conservation-friendly and he practiced what he preached, according to many people who knew him. Jim died in December 2014 but his legacy of leadership lives on through the Whitewater Farmer Led Council.
Jim Frederick, at right, was proud to be one of the first farmers to receive certification under the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. At left is Matt Wohlmann, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
With a twinkle in his eye and his genuine appreciation for people and the environment, Jim Frederick succeeded at launching the Farmer Led Council in the Whitewater River watershed. The council was the first of its kind in Minnesota and members continues their work together to reduce ag pollutants. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Porter.