Rice SWCD movie night

A beautiful summer evening and Larry Conrad's machine shed served as the backdrop for Rice SWCD's "Film on the Farm" event on Aug. 27.

DUNDAS, Minn. — None of the titles were Hollywood blockbusters, but a series of short films were shown on Aug. 27 — on the side of a shed.

The Rice Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service teamed up to host a “drive-in” movie night for area farmers. The short films were lacking in car chases and explosions, but were informative on the subjects of conservation tillage and cover crops by producers in southern Minnesota. Organizers christened the event, “Film on the Farm,” and it took place on the Larry Conrad Farm located a few miles from Dundas, Minn.

“Normally we would be hosting traditional in-person field days or meetings on the farm, but we’ve heard mixed feelings from farmers regarding attending events because of the threat of Covid-19,” said Teresa DeMars with the Rice SWCD. “While some farmers are comfortable with attending events, others do not want to expose themselves due to their age or health concerns. We decided to think outside the box and came up with the nostalgic idea of having a “drive-in” movie night. It should be a great opportunity for all to get out of the house for an event while being safely protected inside their vehicle.”

The vehicles ranged from convertibles to SUVs to pickup trucks and the attendees were varied as well. Dan Honken of Faribault is in his sixth year of utilizing cover crops. He and his wife Erin came to the Conrad farm to lend support for cover crops and the Rice SWCD effort. “I’ve worked with a lot of these people in the past,” he said.

Honken seeds 300 acres with a grazing mixture featuring winter rye for his 140 head of livetock. “We’re seeing good results,” he said. “After the second year you could already tell the soil was better.”

Honken is also a grower of Kernza. He likes the perennial grain as it doesn’t require tilling and planting every year. “You get about two or three years out of it,” he explained. “It’ll keep growing after that, but the plant starts putting more into the grass and less into the grain.”

A brewery in Northfield, Minn. has made beer out of Honken’s Kernza, but he sells most of the grain for seed. He said an additional benefit of Kernza is what’s left after the grain is harvested. ”I get about 2,000 pounds of forage after the grain,” he said, “and about a ton per acre for the cattle to graze.”

Jack Schwab, who lives about 15 miles south of the Conrad farm, is set to seed his first cover crop this year. He plans to seed rye in his first year to get his feet wet. “That’s why I’m here tonight,” he said. “I’m behind a lot of these guys and I have a lot to learn. But it’s exciting what I’m hearing and I’m looking forward to it.”

Conrad smiled when asked about his involvement with organizing the “Film on the Farm” event. “My neighbor volunteered me!” he said. Conrad in in his fourth year of a cover crop mix on 600 acres of corn; but he’s not in it alone. “There’s about five or six of us in a group,” he said. “The group is all using the same mix. We bounce ideas off of each other; what works, what we might want to do different. We’re learning.”

Films which were shown during “Film on the Farm” include Hugh Hammond Bennett:  The Story of America’s Private Land Conservation Movement by NRCS; High Clearance Cover Crop Seeder with Andy Linder by Minnesota NRCS; No-Till Farming with Corn and Cover Crops in Southeastern Minnesota by Minnesota NRCS; Growing No-Till Corn Silage and Cover Crops for Dairy in Southeastern Minnesota by Minnesota NRCS; and Studying My Soil: A Continuous Education through Trial and Error (featuring Rice County farmer Dave Legvold) by Strip-Till Farmer Magazine.

The films were projected onto a large machine shed door and the audio for the movies were broadcast to each vehicle using an FM transmitter (87.7 FM on the car radio dial). Bags of popcorn were even handed out as movie-goers drove onto the farmstead.

“We were looking for a way to do community outreach while at the same time keep people distant,” said Rice SWCD District Manager Steve Pahs. “Events like this are becoming much more popular. We had to buy some equipment, but we’re really happy with the response.”

Another piece of equipment at the Rice SWCD’s disposal is an interseeder for cover crops. The seeding service is geared toward farmers who have not previously used cover crops; or land which has not had cover crops on it before. Those who take part in the program must commit to a three-year installation. The rate for the 2020 crop season is $30 per acre for a single species and $35 per acre for multi-species mixes.

More information can be obtained from Rice SWCD by calling (507) 332-5408 or stopping at their office at 1810 30th St. NW in Faribault, Minn.

The “Film on the Farm” event was made possible by grant funding from the Minnesota Office For Soil Health, Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources, Minnesota NRCS, and the Tri-Lakes Sportsman Club.