John & Andrew Boen farms earn Water Quality Certification
Jim Lahn, Area Certification Specialist, North Central Minnesota
As World War II ended in 1945, John Boen began his farming career in northwestern Otter Tail County.
Today he and his grandson, Andy Boen, make a good team as they continue to farm the family land about 7 miles west of Pelican Rapids. And while John did adopt the many changes in farming practices in his 70-year career as a farmer, his strong commitment to conservation farming has not changed.
Twice the West Otter Tail SWCD (Soil & Water Conservation District) selected John Boen as their “Conservationist of the Year”, and the continued decisions of this Grandfather – Grandson team to be ‘conservation farmers’ has now brought them the achievement of another award.
John and Andy Boen’s farming operation is now Water Quality Certified in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP). The Boen’s farming operation joins over 800 Water Quality Certified farming operations in Minnesota’s unique, 5-year-old program that recognizes farmers’ efforts to protect the state’s water quality.
Who remembers the “one-way plow?” John Boen does
When John started farming in the mid-1940’s, one of his first conservation steps was to buy a ‘one-way plow’. John describes, “I used this one-way plow to fill in the eroded gullies that had formed before I began to farm this ground” – ground which is rolling farmland with moderate to steep slopes. “Year by year, I pulled the one-way plow to gradually close up the gullies.”
At the same time, he introduced new conservation practices on his land which greatly reduced soil erosion, prevented gullies from re-forming, and kept soil sediment from entering streams and lakes.
John was one of the first in his neighborhood to plant his row crops on level lines across the hillsides (called ‘contour farming’) to keep the soil in place, rather than planting up-and-down the hill.
“I also practiced contour strip-cropping for a time,” John explains, “in which alternating strips of corn, oats, and alfalfa where planted on the contour across the hillsides.”
And in a major effort to prevent gullies from re-forming, John installed 23 water & sediment control basins on his fields. These small dams temporarily retain the water concentrated in drainageways and prevent it from rushing down the hill and causing gully erosion. Instead, the captured water is slowly released through a designed outlet pipe.
Today these “basins” continue to reduce soil erosion on the Boen farmland and prevent the re-forming of the erosion gullies that John worked so hard to fill.
To further protect the soil and water, John and Andy utilize a conservation tillage system for their row crop operation. Andy says, “We’ve made changes in the type of fall tillage equipment that we use. On our soybean stubble and wheat stubble, we are now using a chisel plow with straight points or spikes instead of twisted points. This implement disturbs the soil less and leaves more stubble on the soil surface, which reduces erosion. On our very steepest slopes, we leave them in grass.”
Conservation farming fends off weeds, insects
Andy Boen continues his Grandfather’s legacy of conservation farming and brings his interest in technology to their farming operation – technology that enables the Boens to apply crop nutrients and crop protection products in ways that best protect Minnesota’s water. The Boens utilize nozzle shutoffs on their sprayer, use GPS auto-steer on their tractors, and employ the Climate FieldView App to help manage their cropfields. In these ways, the Boens’ efforts to protect their crops from weeds and insects are done so that the environment is also protected.
In their efforts to best manage nitrogen fertilizer and prevent its loss to water sources, they split their applications of this nutrient, using Y-drop applicators to sidedress nitrogen when the corn most needs it.
The Boens’ use of tissue sampling gives them the ability to monitor the nutrient availability in their crops, and they also apply a slow-release form of nitrogen, ESN, to provide nitrogen when the corn and wheat need this nutrient. These steps increase the availability of nitrogen to their crops and reduce the risk of nitrogen being lost to the environment.
Farm practices protect lakes, streams, groundwater
The long legacy of conservation farming on the Boen farmland continues as John and Andy use this system of conservation practices to protect their land as well the nearby lakes, streams, and the groundwater.
In John and Andy’s words: “Our goal is to continue to evolve and adapt conservation-related practices that will not only benefit soil and water health and provide wildlife habitat but will also produce healthy crops for human consumption and farmland sustainability for generations to come.”
“John and Andy Boen can be proud of their decisions to protect Minnesota’s water and soil and of receiving their Water Quality Certified Farm sign in early March 2020,’ says said Jim Lahn, the program’s Area Certification Specialist, who works with the program in 11 counties in north central Minnesota. “I appreciate the Boen’s participation in this program – it is an excellent way for farmers to explore use of new Conservation Practices and also tell the story of the good things they do to protect water quality.”
Boen family farmland has another famous distinction: The home of ‘The Tree’ west of Pelican Rapids on Hwy 108
The Boen farms, west of Pelican Rapids, earned honors for progressive agricultual practices and conservation initiatives.
But to the motoring public, the Boen place is famous for an unrelated reason.
Though the tens of thousands of passing motorists, across the decades, are unaware, the Boen acreage is the location of “The Tree.”
A famous icon for those coming and going from the Pelican lake country, “The Tree” is along Highway 108, on the edge of a Boen field.
Untold numbers of images of “The Tree” have been captured over the years. It has been a favorite for many a photographer, including Pelican Rapids shooter Drego Nemec. The image, at top, was photographed by Nemec at sundown. Nemec is an active photo enthusiast, and organized a Pelican area photography club—which met regularly at the Pelican Rapids Public Library, until the COVID-19 shut it down.
As for John Boen, he often ponders what life would be like—if he earned a royalty for every single photo taken of “The Tree.”