September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Our grandpa and our dad, Larry, instilled that conservation ethic in us," Ross Greden said.
For their efforts in being good land stewards, the Greden family received the 2011 Winona County Outstanding Conservationist award in December.
"As a family, we were honored and it is something we're proud to receive," Ross said.
Brothers, Ross and Brent, along with their parents, Larry and Nancy, farm together on their dairy, Gredens Ponderosa Dairy, near Altura, Minn., where they milk 480 cows.
Along with the cows, the Gredens raise 850 acres of corn and 400 acres of alfalfa in addition to managing 500 acres of pasture and wooded land.
Brent and his wife, Polly, have three children. Adam works full-time on the farm while Luke and Cole help when they are able. Ross and his wife, Vicky, have four children - Ethan, Josie, Lydia and Megan.
"Everybody contributes as much as they can," Brent said. "The whole family also plants trees."
They learned this skill from Larry, who planted 10,000 trees - mostly white pine - on their land in 1976 when he bought the farm from his dad. Since then, the family continues to keep up their wooded acreage by planting an average of 2,000 trees every year.
The Gredens make it a priority to work with the Soil and Water Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA) and their feedlot officers to take care of their land. With the NRCS the Gredens are involved in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP).
In the 1990s, they started planting prairie grasses, which has now grown up to 40 acres. Most of this land is in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), but they also have virgin native prairie sites on the hillsides. Recently, the Gredens started prescribed burning part of their land.
"If you don't burn, woods will creep in. It's called successional habitat. It starts to turn into a forest again," Ross said.
Other management practices the Gredens have used are creating diversions, pond structures, erosion control structures, contour strips and, for the first time this winter, cover crops. After harvesting their silage, they spread manure, tilled the ground and planted winter rye.
"It will help cut down on wind erosion," Ross said.
One of Polly's main jobs is to keep the manure management plan up to date. Spreading manure on their land lowers erosion by 15 percent, which is especially good for the Gredens' farm. About 90 percent of their land is highly erodible.
"We want to help the soil stay in its place," Ross said.
Along with the constant need to protect their land from erosion, another challenge the Gredens deal with is having invasive species, especially Buckthorn, in their woodlands.
"We like to hunt and we have to improve the woods to improve the habitat," Ross said about why they put in the effort to maintain and improve their land.
The Gredens create wildlife food plots, work to improve timber stand, and build duck and bird houses for their land.
But taking care of the land becomes more personal for the Gredens.
"There are intangible values to the work we do," Ross said.
Ross, Polly and Adam have all shot deer from a tree stand anchored in a pine tree planted by Larry.
"We got to enjoy the benefits of him planting the tree," Ross said.
And they harvested Red Pines Larry planted in 1976 to build a hunting cabin.
Being a good conservationist is a family-learned concept.
"I think we learned a lot from our parents," Brent said. "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be into it as much."
Both Larry and his father were on the Soil and Water Conservation District's board of supervisors.
But the Gredens also picked up additional information through 4-H and FFA projects, and as they learned how to hunt.
"We would sit in the tree stand and watch the wildlife come in ... We want to provide the wildlife with food, water, cover and the best we can give them," said Ross, who also learned more from being a member and past president of Pheasants Forever.
Loving the land is a characteristic the Gredens have been also passing onto the upcoming generation of Gredens.
"We do the best we can with our land," Brent said.
Polly added, "We live here and want it to be here for future generations."
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