Ian Cunningham produces corn, soybeans, and beef cattle on his farm (established 1885) in southwest Minnesota with his wife Cindy and son Richard. He is now in his sixth term as supervisor of Pipestone County Soil and Water Conservation District (he was first elected to the post in 1998), and also serves on NACD’s Board of Directors. In December 2016, he will finish his term as president of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Ian’s farm, established in 1885, has gone through a series of positive management changes in the past 130 years.
“We farmed on the contour for many years, quit moldboard plowing in 1967, ridge tilled in the 1980s and early 1990s, and have practiced no-till and strip till since then,” he told NACD. Today, the Cunninghams use grid soil sampling, precision tools for nutrient application, and integrated pest management. They also use cover crops to protect their soils before and after they plant their primary crops. “At least 10 percent of our annual crop ground produces an early summer forage crop,” Ian said. In early winter, the family’s herd has a multi-species cover crop to graze, and all the perennial forage on the farm is managed with high density and short duration grazing.
“I really believe that if we only try things that are supposed to work every time, we will never improve,” he said. “People who haven’t tried using soil health practices and don’t want to change won’t realize the benefits. People who believe in and practice soil health, have a way of being successful.”
“On our farm we see the soil as a living thing – not just a mechanical or chemical process.” This approach to farming, Ian explained, has made all the difference. “For over 130 years we have strived to do what’s best for the land and livestock. And as conservation practices have evolved, we have adapted too. The benefits we see from using them are too many to begin to mention.”