Profile: Tim Gieseke, New Ulm, MN
PROFILE: Tim Gieseke, New Ulm, Minn.
|Tim Gieseke: Diversified crops, livestock and walnut trees. New Ulm, Minn. |
Photo by Ruth Klossner
RUNOFF CAPTURE SYSTEM RECYCLES PRECIPITATION ON DIVERSE MINNESOTA FARM
Tim Gieseke had more than one goal when he decided to diversify his central Minnesota farm. For his young sons, he wanted long-term profits, should they choose to be the fifth generation of growers on the family’s land. For him and his wife, he sought crop diversity to achieve continuous short-term profits. And for the land ecology, he hoped to plant a crop that would perform well on a 10- to 15-percent slope and find a way to capture runoff.
To achieve that, Gieseke planted black walnut trees, started a flock of sheep and planted hay, all integrated in an agroforestry system designed to maximize water use.
“We have a steep piece of land that won’t grow row crops,” said Gieseke, who with his wife owns 50 farm acres and rents another 30 from his parents. Elsewhere on the two parcels, they grow corn, soybeans and wine grapes. “We were making a few dollars from hay production. I wanted to continue that, but also look at the potential long term.”
With just a few acres, Gieseke decided on high-value black walnut trees. Walnut trees need 35 inches of water a year to thrive, but Gieseke’s farm in southern Minnesota averages 30 inches a year. To make up the difference, Gieseke, with help from a SARE farmer grant, constructed an innovative contour system featuring irrigation holes that trap hillside runoff and convey it to the tree roots.
He planted seedlings in rows 20 feet apart, created earthen curbs on the contour and augured 9-inch-wide, 30-inch-deep holes filled with pea rock between every other tree. The infiltration system absorbs water from even torrential downpours with minimal runoff. Gieseke had a front-row seat to what his system could handle when a heavy rain dropped half an inch in 15 minutes while he was building the system. On the side where he had finished installing the curb/weir system, he did not see runoff or water pooling. On the unfinished half, he saw water pour down the hillside.
Moreover, the grove was resilient even during the sensitive first few months of seedling growth despite a short drought. “We had very dry conditions the first season, with a few heavy rainfalls that I think the contour curbs caught nicely,” he said. In fact, in the first three seasons, he has not had to irrigate the saplings.
Gieseke built the system using available equipment, such as his chisel plow, and his own manpower. What equipment he lacked, such as a grader, he rented on the cheap. “Part of conservation is understanding what you have and using it accordingly,” said Gieseke, a former conservation planner for the Carver Soil and Water Conservation District in Waconia, Minn. “Whatever I do I want to be applicable to nearly every farm.”