Gerard Family-conservationist of the year

The Gerard family of Spring Grove were selected as Conservationists of the Year by the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District. From left to right: Shirley and Tom Gerard, Jeff Gerard and Judy Tollefsrud. 

By Bob Scanlan

Root River SWCD

The Root River Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is proud to announce this year’s Conservationist of the Year. 

The Gerard’s from rural Spring Grove are beef producers and this year’s recipients. Jeff Gerard, Judy Tollefsrud, and Tom and Shirley Gerard currently manage around 500 acres of owned farm land in Wilmington Township that consists of row crops, hay, pasture, and a 300 head dairy beef and dairy heifer feeding operation. 

Jeff and Tom began working on conservation projects early in their farming career during the mid- to late-seventies in cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resource Conservation Service NRCS) and SWCD. 

Some of the projects implemented over 40 years ago are still the same as many of the projects being built on the ground today. 

An 818’ long waterway in 1976 and a grade stabilization structure project in 1979 were two major projects from the early years. Later, in the early to mid-eighties other projects were enacted. 

A diversion above the farm yard diverted water away from the buildings below and a separate “farmable diversion” made life easier while diverting water and collecting sediment. The eighties and nineties also brought many more waterway and structure projects along with some conservation tillage and feedlot work.

The Gerard’s have always had a focus on beef production so it seemed natural to include some feedlot improvement work to their facilities to reduce runoff potential. 

In the late nineties, Gerard’s implemented practices to better manage the nutrients produced by the cattle feedlot. At the same time they developed a waste management system with roof gutters and a solids settling basin to collect manure solids that come off the feedlot. 

They also enrolled in an NRCS nutrient management program that enabled them to better track all the nutrients on the farm including manure and commercial fertilizer. 

Around that time they also enrolled in a pest management program to aid in tracking all pesticide (herbicides, insecticides, etc.) use on the farm. This was in addition to thousands of feet of installed waterways, terraces, and diversions. 

The 2000’s have brought more of the same commitment to conservation with projects that include thousands of feet of additional waterways, in addition to improved nutrient management, and enrollment in CRP, cover crops, and no till soil management programs.

The Gerard farm, though mostly crop land, also includes some highly erodible, non-tilled areas. These areas serve as pasture for the dairy heifers and dry cows that are custom-fed on the farm. 

The pasture is rotationally grazed, thereby eliminating over-grazed areas that can be problematic for runoff in permanent pasture systems. In addition some of the small, odd shaped fields have been enrolled in CRP thereby creating areas for wildlife including upland birds and pollinators. 

Each area of the farm has had individual attention. Whether an area of the farm is currently being used to produce feed, safely direct water, provide wildlife habitat, or graze cattle, the Gerard’s have put some conservation-minded thought into it. When asked why they’ve continued to do the conservation work that they do, Jeff says it’s, “The way it should be done.” 

That practical way of thinking is why the Gerard’s are this year’s Conservationists of the Year!

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