A small dairy near New Ulm is doing more than just providing top quality milk. John Schroeder and his son, Jason, are managing manure and milkhouse waste to better protect the natural environment, including the Minnesota River nearby. They combined their own money with government loans and grants, amassing $91,000 to install a waste storage basin, stormwater control structures, and open lot improvements.
John and Jason represent the fifth and sixth generations on the family farm, where they milk 60 registered Holsteins, raise breeding bulls, and farm 325 acres just outside of Courtland, north of Highway 14 between New Ulm and Mankato.
Like many things, much has changed over the years. In earlier times, milkhouse waste and manure-contaminated water from open lots was sometimes allowed to run off, possibly entering tile lines or ditches. Full of nutrients, the runoff could contribute to excessive algae growth, a major cause of water pollution. Manure had to scraped and hauled daily from the barns, and stockpiled until it could be applied to cropland as fertilizer.
“We knew that we needed a new manure management plan, but it was such a large cost, we wondered how we were going to do it,” John says. Assistance came from a U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service grant covering 50 percent of the cost, and a low-interest state loan. “No way would we have been able to do this project without cost-share,” John says. The process took nearly two years with meetings and paperwork. “We jumped through all the hoops,” John says. “You have to be patient. I’d like to see it streamlined.”
Jason, who lives with his young family in a house just north of the home place, looks to the future. “We need to be more efficient in growing more food, and also protecting the environment,” he says. “Farmers have to be proactive in what they’re doing for the environment. We need to follow setbacks for spreading manure, and use practices like conservation tillage to minimize soil erosion.” Their efforts have been recognized in earning the 2008 Conservation Farm Family of the Year award from Nicollet County, and a quality award from AMPI in New Ulm, where their milk goes for processing into butter and cheese.
Although it took time, money and hard work, the Schroeders say they’re generally pleased with the results. Manure is pumped from the barn into the storage basin. Stormwater runoff from the open lot is captured in the basin instead of running off into drain tiles and ditches. The open cattle pen remains dry, improving herd health and comfort. Twice each year manure is pumped from the basin and applied to cropland as valuable fertilizer, following appropriate rates and setbacks.
They are on track to complete all remaining improvements under the Open Lot Agreement, a provision in the state’s feedlot rule that offers flexibility for small farms in meeting environmental protection requirements. The Schroeders also have signed up for a voluntary environmental improvement program through the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. Improving wildlife habitat is all that remains to become designated as a five-star dairy in the Environmental Quality Assurance program.
For more information, visit the the MPCA feedlot program page.