Dan and Shelly Carroll are conservationists who enjoy living on their farm a few miles southwest of Park Rapids.

Their careers involve natural resources management, and they practice conservation as they manage their land, which adjoins Knutson Lake and is also near both the Blueberry and Shell Rivers in southeastern Becker County.

The Carrolls’ decisions to manage their land so that water and soil are protected results in their farm achieving the status of Water Quality Certified Farm in Minnesota’s Ag Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP).

Their farm is one of the earliest to be certified in Becker County. The Carrolls join 792 Minnesota producers whose farming operations are water quality certified on a total of 533,193 acres in this five-year-old, voluntary program.

The ranks of Minnesota’s water quality certified farms include small farms as well as large farming operations and represent a diversity of crop and livestock production, including row crops, small grain, hay, pasture and many types of livestock.

Dan explains that MAWQCP was “of interest to us as landowners because our farm and farming practices directly impact three significant surface water features and their ecosystems. We want those ecosystems to be healthy, and we want the watershed to be healthy, now and into the future. That’s part of the legacy we’d like to leave.”

Shelly further explained their motivation for practicing good stewardship. “Surface water moves through our property, so we recognize the responsibility we have to be good stewards for those downstream,” she said.

And their interest in protecting water quality also led to them explore the history of the lakes, wetlands and rivers in their neighborhood.

“In discussion with some neighbors, we’ve come to learn that logs harvested in the Smokey Hills, west of the Ponsford prairie, were staged and floated to Menahga via the Shell and Blueberry Rivers,” Dan says. “The watercourse required many improvements (ditches) be constructed to connect the rivers with many small ponds and lakes to complete the route.”

As they appreciate the history of their land, the Carrolls also appreciate that today they need to make choices to prevent soil erosion; improve soil health; slow water runoff rates, and protect the nearby lakes, rivers, wetlands as well as groundwater.

Perennial pasture, conservation plantings

All of the Carrolls’ land is in perennial vegetation, either utilized as pasture for their horses or established as “conservation cover,” perennial vegetation for wildlife habitat.

As a result, soil erosion (whether by water or wind) is prevented. Additionally, water runoff rates are reduced, delivery of sediment or nutrients to water resources is minimized, and soil organic matter levels improve.

The Carrolls also practice rotational grazing, meaning the horses are moved from one pasture area to another. In this way, a good stand of pasture grasses is maintained.

Protection of lakes, streams

The Carrolls maintain perennial grasses along the stream that is a tributary to the Blueberry River. They do the same along the shore of Knutson Lake and the other water features on their land.

One of these areas is enrolled as a riparian buffer in the Conservation Reserve Program. These vegetated areas filter runoff water before it enters a lake or stream and also enable them to meet Minnesota Buffer Law requirements.

The Carrolls also have improved perimeter fencing on their pastures to keep livestock out of these water resources.

Careful use of herbicides

The Carrolls practice minimal spot-spraying of herbicides to control weeds. They are careful when they spray and always follow label instructions.

Their educational backgrounds and career experiences guide them to apply numerous conservation practices on their land. Dan’s education is in forestry management and fire. He works for the Division of Forestry in the Wildfire Section, as an aerial firefighter and Firewise specialist. Shelly studied geography and environmental science. She owns and operates a drone intelligence company that focuses on resource management activities.

With this background and knowledge, the Carrolls also apply these conservation techniques on their land:

  • Removal or management of invasive species, whether terrestrial or aquatic,

  • Practicing sustainable forest management, which includes water quality best management practices,

  • Utilization of a prescribed fire regime,

  • Use of natural fertilizers,

  • Proper control of beavers and gophers,

  • Conservation of water (by collection of rainwater) to fill livestock tanks, irrigate the garden, etc.,

  • Installation of micro-debris catches to minimize streambank cutting during high-water periods.

By using this combination of conservation practices, the Carrolls protect surface water and groundwater, prevent loss of valuable topsoil, and conserve these resources for future generations.

“Our family and friends get to enjoy our management activities by walking among and inventorying the hundreds of wildflowers and native grasses that exist, and all the pollinator species that inhabit those areas. They also enjoy viewing the many different types of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals that call the farm home,” the Carrolls said.

Dan remarks, “We know quality water increases species diversity, promotes wildlife habitat, plant health and soil health. It contributes to economic gains through wild edible harvest, honey production, vegetable production, seed collection, and recreational activities.”

Shelly adds, “Quality water means everything – it keeps the livestock watered, it affects the food we eat and the water we drink. Quality water adds to our quality of life.”

Farm operators and owners throughout the state are eligible to be involved in the MAWQCP. Producers interested in learning more can contact their local Soil & Water Conservation District office or Jim Lahn at 218-457-0250.

Jim Lahn is an area certification specialist with the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, covering 11 counties in north-central Minnesota. His office is located in Perham.