Riding to glory
Three locals fare well at National Junior High School Rodeo finals

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Three Jackson County girls fared well at the National Junior High School Rodeo finals in Perry, Ga., earlier this summer.
Jessica Dvorak, Josie Dvorak and Sadie Hotzler earned trips to the national competition after finishing in the top four at the Minnesota Junior High School Rodeo finals in Fergus Falls back in May. Hotzler is reigning state champion in barrel racing and reserve champion pole bender. Josie Dvorak qualified in barrels and poles and Jessica Dvorak made it in barrels, poles and goat tying.
At the national level, Hotzler finished 23rd in barrels and 56th in poles. Josie Dovrak finished 34th in poles and 61st in barrels. Jessica Dvorak finished 56th in barrels, 88th in goat tying and 101st in poles.
The national competition took place June 19-25.

Roskamp employs a variety of conservation measures

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By Kyle Kuphal

Last fall, Lucas Roskamp put eight farmable terraces on the land he farms west of Edgerton.
“I had a waterway in the back, but the water was washing around the waterway,” he said.
He discussed the issue with the Pipestone County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Conservationist and ended up eliminating the waterway and creating the farmable terraces at the top of a hill. The terraces created a basin for water to gather in and used underground tile to drain the water away, so it doesn’t wash away soil or crops.
“Honestly, this year, I’ve seen the benefits already after that first big rain in May when we had an inch of rain in half an hour to an hour,” Roskamp said. “I can see washing everywhere else in the field and I can see washing up to those terraces and then that stopped the washing and it didn’t wash anymore down the way.”
He said the project also improved efficiency because he doesn’t have to go around the waterway with his equipment. He said the SWCD paid for the majority of the cost of the project.
Roskamp also participates in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). As part of that he practices variable rate fertilizer application, which involves grid sampling of the soil every 2.5 acres and taking a more targeted approach to applying fertilizer based on data rather than applying a uniform amount across the entire field.
“We are targeting the areas that produce real well and putting a little bit more fertilizer on the well producing and maybe cutting back on gravel knobs and things like that,” Roskamp said.
He also scouts for weeds, targets specific weeds with herbicides, and documents and maps herbicide applications as part of CSP.
“Those are the biggest two enhancements that I have on there,” Roskamp said.
He said the SWCD pays him for the enhancements he implements on a per acre basis.
“I feel that I’ve seen the benefits of the variable rate fertilizer and I think it’s a good program,” Roskamp said.
CSP is a five-year program and this is his fifth year. Roskamp said he won’t be paid for the practices after that, but that he plans to continue the variable rate fertilizer application. He could also continue in the CSP, but would have to implement different enhancements. He plans to look into those enhancements and see what would fit in with or benefit his operation.
In addition, each year since 2016, Roskamp has planted corn or soybeans on two plots of land owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to produce food for wildlife.
The plots are about a mile apart near his home. One of the plots is 10 acres and one is six acres. Roskamp said a friend of his works for the DNR in Slayton and asked if he’d like to take over the feed plots after someone else gave it up and he agreed.
He plants corn and soybeans in the plots in the spring and harvests about two-thirds of it in the fall, leaving the rest in the field for wildlife to eat over the winter. He then goes back in the spring and harvests what, if anything, is left and takes it to the elevator and splits the proceeds 50-50 with the DNR.
“There have been times where it’s worth combining it,” Roskamp said. “There have been times where it’s not worth it at all.”
When he combines in the fall, he said, he leaves small portions of the crops scattered around the DNR land rather than leaving one larger spot of crops. He said that’s helpful for people who hunt pheasants and deer in the area because they can walk along side the strips of crops.
Roskamp said the planting and harvesting of the DNR land is sometimes a “pain in the neck,” but he’s willing to do it.
“I hunt around here as well, so I understand the benefits of it,” he said. “But then there are some days the deer eat enough of my corn in places too.”
Roskamp grew up on the farm he now lives on and moved back to the site and started farming full-time in 2017 after his father, Dallas, retired. Dallas bought the farm and started farming in 1977. He and his wife, Renee, raised three children at the site.
Roskamp and his wife, Jessica, are now raising their three children, ages 3 to 8, on the same farm. Roskamp grows corn and soybeans on 750 acres, custom farms another 300 acres and, as of this year, sells seed for Beck’s Hybrids. Jessica teaches music at the Edgerton Public School District.
Farming is what Roskamp has wanted to do since he was a young child. He said he loves being his own boss, being able to spend time with his family and having the flexibility in the summer to go to his children’s ball games. And “driving tractors is fun,” he said.
“Mom always said its a hard way to make a living, but it’s a wonderful way of life,” Roskamp said.

Volunteers headed to Jackson County for river cleanup effort

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By Joshua Schuetz

A major volunteer effort to clean up portions of the West Fork Des Moines River will kick off in Jackson County later this month.
Iowa Project AWARE — which stands for “A Watershed Awareness River Expedition” — is an Iowa-based environmental conservation organization that has been organizing river cleanups across southern Minnesota and northern Iowa for nearly two decades, only pausing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started out 19 years ago after Chad Pregracke with Living Lands and Waters did his Mississippi River cleanup,” said Nina Marquardt, project manager for Iowa Project AWARE, “and we decided to do something similar but make it a week-long event.”
Each year, the group brings hundreds of volunteers together with canoes and camping equipment for the week. Some choose to volunteer for a day or two, while others dedicate the entire week to cleaning rivers.
“We’ve cleaned up a total of 16 tons of trash over the years and 78 percent of that was recycled,” Marquardt said. “Last year, we were able to recycle 95 percent of it.”
The kinds of things volunteers find in the rivers range from the mundane — soda bottles and cans — to the downright bizarre, like tire trackers and even entire cars. The groups of volunteers work together to haul items large and small out of rivers.
Marquardt said some volunteers have even found creative ways to turn trash into natural treasure.
“We had one volunteer who used the money we got from selling scrap metal to restock the river with walleye, and that’s something we’re hoping to do again,” she said.
Marquardt said spaces for this year’s cleanup filled fast, as people from all over the United States are drawn to the volunteer work.
The cleanup will begin in Petersburg on July 11 and close out on July 15 near West Bend, Iowa.
“We’re going to start in Petersburg and work our way down from there,” Marquardt said.
The route covers 61 river miles through Jackson County and Iowa’s Emmet and Palo Alto counties and includes all 29 miles of the newly dedicated water trail in Emmet County.

Newalta Dairy to host Dinner
on the Dairy

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By Kyle Kuphal

Newalta Dairy is inviting people to come have Dinner on the Dairy on Thursday, June 23, from 5 to 8 p.m.
The event will be held at Newalta’s main site at 1125 71st Street, Pipestone. It will include a free meal, ice cream served by the Pipestone/Rock County Dairy Princesses Katelyn Welgraven and Josie Sutherland, tours and more.
The Pipestone County American Dairy Association holds a Dinner on the Dairy every two years to invite the public to visit a local dairy and see what it looks like. The last Dinner on the Dairy was scheduled for 2020, but was canceled due to the pandemic. The Vander Wals previously hosted the event around 15 years ago.
“It’s good to get the public out here to see what we’re doing,” said Alisha Ekkel, who is part owner of the business with her husband Trevor Ekkel, her brother Ian, and her parents John and Berlinda Vander Wal. “I know not everyone is happy with the smells that agriculture can bring and busy traffic on the roads, but at least if they come out and see it maybe they will realize that it’s for a purpose and we’re doing it to feed the local people and the world.”
The dairy milks 3,500 cows at two sites. Alisha said Newalta produced 85 million gallons of milk in 2021. She said all of their milk is used to make cheese.
Newalta’s barns include sand bedding with a manure and sand separation system, so the sand can be reused. In addition to milking, Newalta grows corn for silage, alfalfa, rye and sorghum on 1,200 acres that is used to feed the cows. The dairy employs 40 people.
John and Berlinda moved their family from Canada to Pipestone County and started the dairy in 2005. Alisha said the family moved to the U.S. because there was more opportunity.
“In Canada they have a quota system, so you’re kind of locked in with the amount of cows that you can have,” she said. “Here it was a little bit more of a free open market.”
She said the family milked about 200 cows in Canada and started with 600 cows when they moved to Pipestone County.
Alisha said she studied dairy production at South Dakota State University and decided to stick with the dairy business that she grew up in and enjoys.
“Before I had kids I used to work in the barn all the time and I really enjoyed doing that,” she said.
All the Vander Wal’s children have gone on to work in agriculture-related fields. Their daughter Bernice Van Hulzen works in the office at Newalta and farms with her husband Ross near Edgerton, their daughter Jenn Landman milks cows with her husband Steve and his family near White, S.D., and their daughter Amy Jo Ruble works at an agricultural bank and raises beef cattle with her husband Riley on his family’s farm near Albert Lea.
The Vander Wal’s children now have a combined seven children of their own, so it’s possible that the family business might continue on to another generation.
The Vander Wals are involved in the Pipestone County American Dairy Association, Dairy Herd Improvement Association and the Minnesota Holstein Association. Alisha said the Minnesota Holstein Association is hosting the National Holstein Convention and is having a tour at Newalta Dairy the week after the Dinner on the Dairy as part of that.

Thompson sees success with dairy

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By Joshua Schuetz

For Noah Thompson, dairy is a family tradition worth keeping alive.
The Cottonwood County resident and Jackson County Central High School sophomore is the grandson of Willis Hinkeldey, owner of Jackson County’s last remaining dairy farm.
Thompson helps out his family on the farm and shows dairy cattle each year through 4-H. This year, Thompson also went to the state FFA convention and competed in dairy handling, netting a bronze award and showing a knack for dairy still runs strong in his family.
“I started competing in dairy when I was in kindergarten and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said. “This was my first year doing dairy handling in FFA and I won regionals and a bronze award at state.”
It’s a tricky event. Dairy handling involves walking the cow at a slower pace and, since Thompson only got a few minutes with his cow before the FFA show, he had to make every second count. The judges ask contestants to get their cattle into different positions, starting with a front view that focuses on the chest and legs, before walking them again.
“The most challenging part is getting them comfortable with you, because in 4-H you’re working with your animal for longer, but at FFA, it’s only for a few minutes,” he said. “I learned how to get a hold of the cow and help her calm down, so she was ready for the show.”
Thompson has a lot of experience working with dairy animals, which gave him a competitive edge in shows around the state. Once he got to the state FFA convention, he had to test his mettle against others who had similar experience.
“At state, it was definitely hard competing with other kids who had a lot of experience in showing,” he said. “I plan on doing dairy handling again next year because I enjoy it and I might do other projects too, but making top ranking is my goal.”
To do that, Thompson said he plans to work on handling skills like setting the animal up and navigating corners with the animal smoothly.
“My favorite part is working with the animal and getting them comfortable with me,” he said. “It’s really important, especially when you only have a few minutes to prepare before a show.”
Thompson plans on going into teaching after high school, with an emphasis on physical education or agriculture. He still wants to be involved in dairy and plans to help out at his grandparents’ farm when he can. In the meantime, he’ll continue doing dairy handling and testing out his skills in different competitions.
“I want to continue showing dairy,” he said, “but there are other competitions I’d like to do as well, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Beef from the farm to the table
More consumers are buying beef directly from producers

Beef farm to table
By Kyle Kuphal

About five years ago, Micky Sehr, of Luverne, started buying beef for his family of four directly from a local producer. That farm to table concept, as some call it, is a growing trend.
Shawn Feikema, of Feikema Farms north of Luverne, where Sehr gets his beef from, said Feikema Farms has always sold some beef directly to consumers, but they sell far more that way than they used to. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, the family farm used to sell about five to seven animals a year directly to consumers and now it sells about 50 animals a year to consumers and there’s a long waiting list.
Feikema said one cause of the increase in direct to consumer sales could have been packing plants being closed during the pandemic, which prevented producers from shipping their animals to packers and caused shortages in stores.
“Since then it’s been word of mouth,” he said. “We’re selling these animals to people we don’t even know.”
He said Feikema Farms typically takes meat sold directly to consumers to V&M Locker in Leota for processing.
Julie Ruiter, who owns V&M Locker with her husband Chad, said the business has also noticed an increase in farm to table sales of beef.
“Not only is our calendar booked out from a farmer standpoint, but also people who don’t necessarily have a direct contact with a farmer will call us and say, ‘Can you find me a quarter of beef, half a beef or a whole beef?’ and then we’ll line it up,”’ she said. “The farmer brings it here and then when they come to pick it up they’ll pay us for the processing and leave a check here for the farmer directly. That list has grown drastically.”
Ruiter said the pandemic was certainly a contributing factor to the increase in the store’s farm to table beef processing business. Before the pandemic, the store had a waiting list of about four to six months for beef orders, she said, and now it’s a year or more. She said the farm to table concept, however, has been trending consistently upward since about 10 years ago.
Ruiter said the business typically butchers about nine more beef cattle a week than it did 10 years ago due to the increase in demand and an increase in processing space at the facility a few years ago. Ruiter thinks the trend is the result of people wanting to support local farmers and know where their food comes from.
“There’s something to be said for knowing where your food comes from,” Sehr said.
Sehr said his family of four splits a quarter of beef from Feikema Farms with a neighbor about every six months and has it processed at V&M Locker.
“After trying it out we decided it made a lot of sense,” Sehr said.
He said it made even more sense when the pandemic hit and meat packing plants were closed causing supply chain issues. Sehr said it’s convenient to have a stockpile of meat on hand, it supports a local business, the price is right and the quality is good. He said his kids say they can taste the difference if he buys beef from a grocery store.
Feikema said Feikema Farms sells most of the animals that go directly to consumers in quarters as is the case with Sehr. He said selling directly to the consumer saves the family business some money on shipping and the consumers get a better, fresher product in addition to knowing where their food came from.
“They want farm fresh meat,” Feikema said.
He said another benefit to the producers is that they get to hear directly from consumers what they thought of their product. That direct, face-to-face feedback, he said, has been rewarding.
“It’s been good for us,” Feikema said.
Feikema said that another related change he’s noticed since the pandemic began and restaurants were closed for a while is that many people seem to have learned how to cook beef and other foods well at home. Restaurants have long since reopened, but Feikema said it seems that some people have come to enjoy cooking at home, perhaps at a backyard barbecue with family and friends, rather than going out to a restaurant and spending more money.
“I think that’s part of it,” he said.
Verlyn Ruiter, who started V&M Locker in 1973, said he expects the shift to more consumers buying beef directly from producers to continue to grow in years to come.
“So many new people have tried getting their meat this way and once they try it they won’t probably go back because of the quality of the meat they get,” he said. “And they like to know where it comes from.”

Like brother, like brother
Teagen and Talic Swenson are getting a head start on raising cattle

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By Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

    The two brothers, who live with their parents, Trelin and Kristie, on an acreage in rural Alpha, received cattle this year through the New Vision Co-op Feeder Calf Program. It’s Teagen Swenson’s second time in the program; last year, he showed his feeder calf at the Jackson County Fair and won a showmanship and rate-of-gain award. Talic Swenson is eager to follow in his footsteps and will show for the first time this year.
“We got involved with it because we wanted to see what raising cattle was like, especially since Dad used to raise dairy cattle when he was growing up,” Teagen Swenson said.
    Teagen Swenson named last year’s calf “Rocket,” and spent the summer working with him.
    “We got him at around 300 pounds in April, and we have to pay for both the calf and the feed, but you get to sell them at the end if you want,” Teagen Swenson said. “I enjoyed it a lot, because it was fun to work and play with him.”
    Sometimes “Rocket” could be challenging to work with, especially when he was getting used to being walked or harnessed. Trelin Swenson started walking him at first, then Teagen switched in. By the time he was ready to sell, “Rocket” weighed 775 pounds.
    Talic Swenson will compete as a 4-H Cloverbud at this year’s county fair. He’s looking forward to getting to work with a calf of his own, especially after watching his brother walk, play with and show “Rocket.”
    Most of all, he’s hoping the two calves get along this year.
    “I hope they like each other and play together, because when Teagen had ‘Rocket’ it looked like they had a lot of fun, and I hoped that if I had a calf of my own, they’d be able to play together,” Talic Swenson said.
    Trelin Swenson, like his sons, was part of 4-H as a kid and he took part in a feeder calf program, just like they’re doing this year. Between that and his dairy experience, he has more than enough knowledge to help his sons learn how to handle their calves, make sure they’re healthy and get ready for showtime.
    He said the program’s accessibility and limited timespan make it a good fit for their family and others who are participating.
“We had the program when I was in 4-H here in Jackson County, so even though we raised dairy, I went through the program because you could sell the calf back at the end,” Trelin Swenson said. “I liked it because it you didn’t have to keep it forever if you weren’t able to, so it’s definitely easier for some families.”
    With summer on the horizon, Teagen and Talic Swenson are looking forward to showing their calves at the fair. For Teagen Swenson, the second verse may well be better — or at least easier — than the first, as he’s had the chance to work his nerves out and knows what showing will be like.
“I was nervous the first time around, but now I don’t feel nervous at all, because I’ve done it before and I know I can do it again,” he said.
    Talic Swenson, while a bit nervous about making his debut in the project this summer, knows his parents and brother will be behind him all the way, just like when Teagen Swenson was first showing.
    “It makes me a little nervous,” he said, “but as a Cloverbud, I know I’ll have a parent with me in the ring at first, so I’m ready.”