As one of the results of their efforts, both their farms are now Water Quality Certified Farms, meaning they've met the standards of Minnesota's Ag Water Quality Certification Program.
Their farms join more than 660 farming operations that are now certified under this four-year-old Minnesota program, which recognizes farmers' efforts to protect water quality.
Both Dombeck farms are in Otter Tail County. Andy's farm is just a few miles west of Wadena and produces corn, soybeans and a variety of other crops. Mike's farm is 2 miles west of Perham and is in corn, soybean and wheat production.
The Dombecks say they understand the need for conservation practices to protect water quality, to slow down water runoff, and to reduce soil erosion. Key conservation practices that they have implemented on their farms include:
• Conservation tillage, no-till farming and strip-till farming. Andy primarily utilizes a strip-till system for his row crop operation; he also does some no-till planting of soybeans. Both systems leave high levels of crop residue (stalks, stubble) on the soil surface, protecting the soil from erosion throughout the crop year. Mike also farms with high crop residue levels, and he varies his conservation tillage practices. He does spring conservation tillage on his cornstalk ground and on soybean stubble; he does not do tillage in the fall. Mike also does no-till farming, using a no-till drill to establish wheat in soybean stubble and planting soybeans no-till in wheat stubble. The Dombecks' practice of leaving high levels of crop residue on the soil surface protects water quality by preventing eroded soil from entering streams, ponds, and lakes. With soil erosion caused by wind or water controlled, very little soil sediment leaves their farms and water runoff rates are greatly reduced.
• Cover crops. Both of the Dombecks utilize cover crops, such as cereal rye grain, in their crop rotations. Cover crops provide growing vegetation and roots in the soil for an extended period of the growing season. This aids in reducing soil erosion, slowing water runoff, holding nutrients in the soil, and increasing soil organic matter. Andy is trying various types of cover crops and planting these at various times in the growing season. Mike likes to plant a cereal rye grain cover crop after soybean harvest, and he also establishes a cover crop after wheat harvest. They both enjoy learning more about cover crops when they attend various field days and crop seminars.
• Best Management Practices for fertilizer applications. Nutrients needed for crop production are applied on the Dombeck farms in a way that prevents loss of nitrogen and phosphorus to groundwater and to surface water. The Dombecks practice 'spoon feeding' of nitrogen, meaning nitrogen is applied at times when the corn crop most needs this nutrient. The Dombecks use several Best Management Practices, which prevent loss of nutrients by leaching and runoff.
• Irrigation management techniques. The Dombecks operate their center pivot irrigation systems so that nitrogen loss is prevented and energy is conserved, and they have converted their irrigation systems to low-pressure systems that use drop nozzles. Andy has participated in the Irrigation Scheduling Program through the East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District, and, more recently, used the Irrigation Management Assistance Tool, which is also offered through the district.
These conservation-minded decisions enable the Dombeck farms to be Water Quality Certified, because water and soil resources are protected.
Andy spoke about the important decisions that farmers make to protect water quality when he participated in the 2018 State of Water Conference at Breezy Point Resort.
"Practicing conservation has made my fields look a bit different," he said. "Now there's lots of stalks and stubble on the ground as well as the green of the growing cover crops between the rows. That's all part of trying to be a better steward of the land."
Farm operators and owners throughout Minnesota are eligible to be involved in the water quality certification program.
"This program is an excellent way for farmers to tell the story of the good things they are doing to protect water quality, as well as explore use of new conservation practices," said Jim Lahn, the program's area certification specialist.
Lahn works with the program in 11 counties in north central Minnesota. Producers interested in learning more may contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District office, or Jim Lahn at 218-457-0250.