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Using Cover Crops to Grow Green

Janski Farms, a family-owned business for four generations, is embracing sustainable practices to grow greener. Since 2017, brothers Daniel and Thomas Janski have implemented no-till practices with cover crops on their sprawling 4,000-acre family farm near South Haven, Minn. The inspiration for this approach stemmed from Thomas’ research into why certain fields were performing more poorly than others.

“Some just weren’t getting as good of a yield as they should have, and I started thinking about the reasons why.” Thomas said. “That’s when I wondered if cover crops could be the solution. Once we planted them, we realized that area was yielding quite a bit better. By preserving the topsoil and retaining the water, the new plants thrived.”

Cover crops are sown in spring after the ground has greened up. They mimic undisturbed soil, keeping the nutrient-rich soil in place and retaining moisture in the ground. The Janski farm cultivates corn, soybean, rye, alfalfa, peas, oats, hemp and houses 1,000 head of dairy, beef and finishing calves. The ability to adopt a greener approach through cover crops enhanced the farm’s sustainability, Daniel said.

“We cultivate our cover crops in the fall, and in the spring we’re able to plant our corn, peas, small grains and alfalfa,” he explained. “We’re cycling nutrients back into the land and, in turn, the land is helping us by growing our crops. That’s us growing green.”

Initially skeptical when Thomas started the farm’s sustainability efforts, Daniel now wholeheartedly embraces the concept. 

“Thomas is the one trying to pull me back now,” Daniel said with a smile. “I love it. I’ve done so much research and am always trying to find new ways to be sustainable.”

Going beyond cover crops, the duo is currently exploring the effects nitrogen has on soil health. “We’re looking into nutrient management by taking nitrogen and injecting it through our irrigation systems,” Thomas explained.

Nitrogen, already present in the soil, enhances plant growth by increasing ions and providing extra energy.

“Cycling the nutrients helps our bottom line,” Thomas said. “Cover crops and sustainability go together. We were struggling with some of our farms and some crops. It was frustrating. We basically had to open the door to other options or quit doing those specific farms.”

“Last night, I was out there spraying and I was looking at the field with a head lamp on,” Daniel said. “I’ve never realized it before, but the earthworms were out cycling nutrients. I could actually see the worms slurping down the soil.” 

Daniel explained that tilling the fields covers the wormholes, obstructing the worm’s access to the surface and their ability to feast on the soil’s nutrients. “Discovering things like this has sparked my interest,” he said. “There’s always something more to learn.”

The Janski brothers have found a great support system in like-minded farmers and their Compeer Financial Officer, Jay Thissen. 

“He always jumps on board with our ideas,” Daniel said. “The biggest thing has been he always gives us advice in situations that we’re unsure of. He’s really someone we’re not afraid to ask a financial question to because he’s such an intelligent person.”

Daniel and Thomas have learned much of their sustainability practices from online research and a hands-on approach. They encourage other operations to do the same if they’re looking to increase their growing green ways.

“Always shoot for the sky,” Daniel said. “Visit the farms that are doing it themselves. Go and see how a regenerative farm or cover crop farm works, and keep those people as resources as you learn for yourself.”

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