Jeremy and Sarah Wilson
Jamestown, North Dakota
Stutsman County Soil Conservation District
“It is an incredible privilege to be a steward of God’s creation for the short time we are living here on earth. We have three children who are the fifth generation on our farm in Jamestown. The Wilson family has roots in agriculture that span back over ten generations. We are dedicated soil health advocates and are affiliated with the Stutsman County Soil Conservation District.”
A friend once said “Farmers borrow their farm from their grandchildren.” Soil health is our number one priority. As our focus has evolved to soil health, our soils are now working for us, ensuring the continued sustainability of our farm for generations to come. Depending on the year, rotation, and market opportunities, we grow corn, soybeans, and spring wheat. We also raise rye, field peas, and sweet corn. In the past we have grown pinto beans, sunflowers, barley, oats, and flax, along with full integration of various cover crops.
Our family first began conservation techniques in the early 1930s when Jeremy’s great-grandparents, J. Harry and Susan Wilson, moved their six youngest children onto the farm. Living in the grainery before moving a house in, they battled the drought and planted (and replanted) trees year after year until the farmyard and fields were protected from wind erosion. Also in the 1930s, Jeremy’s grandfather W.C. “Bill” Wilson attended Conservation Camp, setting the stage for generations of conservation-minded farming. Over the past three years, we’ve planted hundreds of trees as well.
We also employ the following soil health practices:
– 100 percent zero tillage since 2001. We were unhappy with the inconsistent results of reduced tillage practices and were effectively “getting in our own way” by trying to partially no-till.
– Cover crops. We began planting single species cover crops in 2002 and integrated cover crop mixes in 2008. We began cover cropping out of a need to maintain residue cover. As the biological activity in our soils increases, the need for surface residue increases.
– Planting green. As we’ve learned more about cover crops and integrating them into our farm, we have seen the importance of maintaining a living root in the soil at all times. We continue to find new ways to achieve this.
– Research. In cooperation with North Dakota State University and NRCS, our long-term, no-tillage fields have been used by researchers to help quantify the effects conservation practices have on soil health and our food supply.
- Short growing season and soils being frozen for half the year. We cannot increase soil health when the ground is frozen. By using cover crops continuously, our soils do not freeze as early, for as long, or as deep as we were used to seeing in our previous tillage system. The increased soil biology keeps the soil warm and full of life further into winter.
- We want every acre to be green, all the time. Integrating cereal rye into our cover crop mix has been helpful; however, we are looking at interseeding and relay cropping to better achieve our goal of having every acre green, all the time.
- The American public, and therefore, representatives at the state and federal level, are increasingly further removed from first-hand experience in agriculture. Having our agricultural policy and resulting regulations influenced so heavily by those who are not involved in production agriculture presents a whole-farm challenge now and in the future. We are passionate about conducting outreach in our community and on social media to help others deepen their understanding of agriculture, soil health, and why we do what we do on our farm. We have opened our farm doors to non-farm audiences to help them understand that healthy soils are a way for us to grow healthier, more abundant food and feed. One unique way we have engaged our community is by planting one acre of sweet corn each year strictly for donation to the Great Plains Food Bank and to those in need in our community. This year, 70 members of our community volunteered to pick corn. Since 2011, we have donated 33,228 pounds of corn, the equivalent of 27,690 meals, to the food bank. Our family also hosts numerous visitors and farm tours. We also volunteer in classrooms and conduct story time at our local library to demonstrate our farming practices and the importance of soil health to our community.