Two Jackson County residents have been recognized by the Minnesota Pork Board for agricultural excellence and contributing to their communities.
Larry Liepold of rural Brewster was awarded the 2022 Environmental Steward of the Year Award. Kevin Majerus of rural Lakefield was awarded the 2022 Swine Manager of the Year Award.
An innovative approach
Liepold won his award in large part due to his crop management techniques, which include strip farming and planting cover crops like barley and buckwheat.
“We use our hog manure as fertilizer to the extent possible because fertilizer is expensive and, about 15 years ago, I started doing no-till on the corn acres,” Liepold said. “The machines we use apply the nutrients to strips of soil and, over time, that improves the quality of the soil because you’re not harming the soil structure.
It’s an innovative approach to corn farming, one that’s been getting more recognition for its fuel efficiency and environmental benefits. Liepold said the former is particularly important at a time when fuel costs are rising rapidly due to inflation.
He’s also been planting cover crops — buckwheat and barley — to break the cycle of corn and soybeans, which benefits the soil and brings in a tidy profit besides.
“We did barley for a couple years and we added a fourth crop, buckwheat,” he said. “The revenue when we did it was equivalent to a corn crop.
Rising corn prices mean Liepold likely won’t be able to plant a barley crop this year, but he’s continuing on with the practices that netted him his recognition because they benefit his business and the land he calls home.
“We blew out our crop goals last year and I know this land well enough to know that what we were doing different was the reason why,” he said.
‘A real honor’
Majerus, who lives just outside of Lakefield, currently raises his own hogs, runs a manure application business and manages other hog barns.
It was the last role that netted him a nomination for the 2022 Swine Manager of the Year Award.
Mark and Stacey Soleta, who Majerus works with, were so impressed with his management skills they nominated him for the award.
“I’m not really sure why I won — I just try to do my job well,” Majerus said. “I’ve been raising pigs since 2004, I’ve built my own facilities and started working with the Soletas quite a few years ago.”
Majerus started a manure application business with his son. Together, the duo flush waste out of hog barns and apply it to the fields, helping to reduce fertilizer costs and make good use of hog waste in the process.
Swing management is a balancing act, Majerus said. Herd health comes out as top priority, but Majerus finds himself doing just about everything, since it takes a lot of moving parts to make for a successful barn. In fact, that’s just what he likes about it.
“I grew up raising livestock and I knew that I didn’t want to be indoors doing the same job every day — I wanted to be around animals and work with them,” he said. “You do a little welding, electrical work; you’ve got to focus on herd health and biosecurity.”
At the end of the day, Majerus loves his work and the people he works with, awards or not.
“It was a real honor to be nominated and to get the award,” he said. “My favorite part of my job is the people I work with, because I’ve known the Soletas for many years and getting to work with them and my son is my favorite part about the job.”