Mosca-Hooper Conservation District
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and applied economics from Texas Tech University in 2013, Erin Nissen returned to the family farm and became the fourth generation to farm Nissen Farms, LLC near Mosca, Colo.
Farming alongside her father Lyle, Nissen raises conventional and organic fresh market potatoes, malting barley for Coors and multi-species cover crops for incorporation and feeding their 150 head of cattle. Nissen helps with all aspects of the operation while focusing on management, record and bookkeeping, food safety, cattle genetics and herd improvement.
Nissen Farms, LLC is a 1320-acre farm made up of eleven center pivot irrigation fields. Each pivot has been separated in three 40-acre “blocks.” On the first block, either potatoes or barley are grown; on the second block, a radish-based cover crop is plowed down; and on the third block, either a soil-holding cover crop or a sorghum-based mix will be grazed. This method gives each block a three-year rotation and allows for maximum water conservation on each pivot. The Nissens work closely with a crop consultant to monitor crops, soil moisture, pests and to schedule irrigation. Cover crops are planted to coincide with potential rain in an effort to maximize the limited precipitation available throughout the year.
Each year, the Nissens utilize a variety of soil health practices, including three-year rotations, cover cropping – including multi-species – reduced tillage whenever possible, inoculating for mycorrhizal activity, maintaining soil cover and cattle grazing of cover crops.
Erin and Lyle are always looking for ways to improve their farm, and they believe that healthy soil is critical to this goal. They’ve been growing cover crops for more than ten years, and new practices are continually being evaluated and implemented.
Adopting new practices always come with a learning curve, and they have had to continually adapt and understand how to manage the land in the most efficient ways possible. The Nissens are seeing positive changes in their sandy soil with the conservation practices they have implemented. The organic matter has always been low, but they are beginning to see it increase. For the first time, they are also finding earthworms and seeing the positive benefits of increased mycorrhizal activities. The moisture-holding capacities and the look and feel of the ground is getting better as well. Sorghum was originally planted as a cover crop to help control pest nematodes that can adversely affect the potato crop. Growing the sorghum mixes then led to the opportunity to begin a cattle herd to graze on the farm, which has greatly benefited the system.
The sandy soil of Nissen Farms does not have much organic matter naturally, and so they continue to work hard to build it up. Their main cash crop, potatoes, is a tillage-heavy crop, so they utilize other practices to mitigate the soil disturbances it creates. Also, their farm is located in a high-altitude desert that receives very low annual precipitation. Every decision made on the farm is centered on water management – deciding how they can continue to cut back as well as limit what they must pump from the alluvial aquifer.
Erin currently serves as the Vice President of the Alamosa County Farm Bureau, Sheep Superintendent for the San Luis Valley Fair, member of the Colorado Seed Potato Act Advisory Committee and Secretary/Treasurer for the SLV Cattleman’s Association.
Posted May 2018.