Conservation Farming: A Summer of Research

By Claire Hinther

I am currently two weeks into a summer of research and work with Dave Legvold, a corn and soybean farmer in Northfield. In 2016, Dave was recognized as a water hero by Governor Mark Dayton for his conservation-based farming practices, including no-till farming and adoption of buffer strips. With the additional guidance of Mark Dittrich from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, I will be conducting nitrogen abatement research on the saturated buffer on Dave’s property.

Dave Legvold and Governor Mark Dayton discussing buffer strips on Dave's farm in Northfield - Photo by Rylee Main

Dave Legvold and Governor Mark Dayton discussing buffer strips on Dave's farm in Northfield - Photo by Rylee Main

Buffer strips are used to prevent agricultural runoff from entering public waterways directly from tile lines. This mitigates water pollution from phosphates, nitrogen, and sediments, which can be reduced if runoff is filtered through a buffer before entering water sources. Using a control structure, saturated buffers redirect tile water laterally through a buffer strip, allowing it to flow through larger areas of unfarmed land before entering waterways. The saturated buffer on the Legvold farm is inhabited by natural vegetation, grasses, and trees between the crop and Mud Creek. In my research, I will be taking water samples throughout the saturated buffer to test how effectively it removes nitrogen. Samples will be drawn from a number of wells throughout the area, and their nitrogen levels will be compared to levels in the tile water as it first enters the buffer. I am hopeful that my findings will show levels of nitrogen abatement significant enough that saturated buffers may be proposed as a more widespread method of protecting general watershed health. This week, weather permitting, I will be digging the wells and hopefully beginning the sampling process. 

Claire Hinther - beginning her Saturated Buffer research on Dave Legvold's farm

Claire Hinther - beginning her Saturated Buffer research on Dave Legvold's farm

Claire Hinther is a rising junior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. She is pursuing a double major in political science and environmental studies with a concentration in women’s and gender studies. A native of Missoula, Montana, she grew up hiking in Glacier National Park, biking in Western Montana and Idaho, and spending long days fishing and swimming the three rivers in her hometown. Through these childhood experiences, she has developed a deep love for the outdoors and a great appreciation for the value of our environment. Through her work this summer, Claire hopes to gain a greater understanding of the factors at play in the formation of environmental policy in agriculture. She is also excited to learn more generally about the lifestyle and practices involved with sustainable farming, and the ways in which conservation-based farming affects the environment.

Claire Hinther

Claire Hinther