Anderson: SE Minnesota farmer thirsts for safe water

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2013 - 7:24 AM

A push for clean water drives decision-making for a farmer/geologist in southeast Minnesota.

hide

Jeff Broberg of rural St. Charles, Minn., in the southeast part of the state, on his farm, with a map showing the region's geology and it's particular susceptibility to nitrate groundwater polllution.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Dml -

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

– A few weeks ago I wrote about the John Peterson family and their farm near North Branch. Corn and soybean producers, the Petersons farm 900 acres, and are concerned not only about profits but about sustainability of their soils, with a nod toward wildlife: Benefiting deer and birds, they maintain 38 acres of woods in the middle of their crop fields.

At the end of that column, I asked readers to suggest names of other farmers whose properties I could visit. My intent, primarily, is to highlight those who are conservation-minded, not only about fish and wildlife but about runoff from their lands, which in some instances can pollute streams, rivers and groundwater, while contributing to the “dead zone’’ in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

I intend also, when fitting, to point out how farming can adversely affect water and land, and fish and wildlife, particularly as corn and soybean acres expand nearly exponentially across Minnesota.

In coming months, I’ll try to visit some of the many farms that were suggested to me.

Meanwhile, today I’m at the Jeff Broberg operation near St. Charles, in Winona County, in southeast Minnesota.

• • •

Spreading a map across the hood of his aging Toyota pickup, Broberg concedes he’s not a typical farmer.

He and his wife, Erica, own 160 acres bordering the south end of Whitewater State Park, with corn and soybeans covering about two-thirds of those acres in a given year.

But Broberg — like many landowners across the state — doesn’t plant and harvest crops. Instead he rents some of his acres to a farmer who does, and sets aside the balance of his land for wildlife.

“That’s one problem affecting our water down here,’’ Broberg said. “A lot of people rent out their land and don’t keep track of what their farmers do to it, particularly how much fertilizer they apply to their crops and when.’’

A licensed geologist with an office in Rochester, Broberg is both fascinated with, and concerned about, the southeast’s unique soil and rock underpinnings.

Known as the “Driftless Area,’’ the region of southeast Minnesota roughly east of Hwy. 52 never was covered by glaciers. Consequently, its powdery soils lay over limestone bedrock that sits, in places, relatively near the surface. The limestone itself, meanwhile, is quite porous, and in many places is marked by fissures that allow the quick disposition of surface water into aquifers.

A couple hundred years ago, when perennial plants covered most of the southeast, including Winona County, that didn’t present a problem.

Today it does, because most of the region’s tillable land is covered in corn and soybeans, and nitrogen-laden fertilizer — sometimes lots of it — is required to grow these crops at yields that ensure profits.

If the plants utilized all of the fertilizer’s nitrogen, fewer drinking wells would be polluted in the southeast with nitrate, which forms when nitrogen and water combine and which can adversely affect pregnant women and their young children.

But soil fertility can vary widely even within individual crop fields, meaning that applied nitrogen might be utilized in its entirety in some areas, while in others, excess nitrogen will leech fairly quickly into the soil and underground waterways, poisoning wells.

“That’s what happened to my well,’’ Broberg said. “We’ve had to install a reverse osmosis system to make sure my wife and I aren’t drinking water laced with 20 parts per million of nitrates, twice the safe level.’’

Because corn and soybeans in recent years have fetched near-record prices, competition is keen statewide for farmland, including in the southeast. Some landowners have even auctioned their rentable lands to the highest bidders, fetching rates of nearly $425 an acre.

“I charge my renter less, $168 an acre,’’ Broberg said. “But I require a lot more from him than other renters do from their farmers. He mows my CRP [Conservation Reserve Program] acres, for instance, and I require him to minimize the chance of overapplying fertilizer by splitting his applications and accurately predicting the amount he needs to prevent applying too much.’’

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 3
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 12 FINAL
Seattle - LP: E. Ramirez 4
Washington 3 Bottom 4th Inning
Philadelphia 2
Tampa Bay 3 Bottom 6th Inning
Baltimore 1
Boston 2 Bottom 7th Inning
Toronto 1
NY Yankees 8 Bottom 4th Inning
Detroit 1
Atlanta 3 Bottom 6th Inning
NY Mets 1
Chicago Cubs 2 Bottom 5th Inning
Cincinnati 6
Cleveland 1 Top 3rd Inning
Chicago WSox 0
Minnesota 0 Top 4th Inning
Kansas City 0
Oakland 0 Top 3rd Inning
Houston 0
Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo 8:10 PM
San Diego - O. Despaigne
Los Angeles - C. Kershaw 8:40 PM
Arizona - W. Miley
Miami - H. Alvarez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - H. Santiago
Colorado - F. Morales 9:15 PM
San Francisco - T. Hudson
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:02 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
D.C. 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close