Two Mower County couples recognized for farming, wildlife conservation

From research to reduced tillage to partnering on conservation projects, Gary and Michelle Angell have worked in many ways to protect their farmland’s soil and the water quality of area streams.

In the 1980s, the Angells, who live near Elkton, started using ridge-till – a practice for minimal soil disturbance – to cut production costs while maintaining yields and soil health. They also have built a dozen water-and-sediment control basins on their land along with about a dozen grassed waterways to reduce soil erosion from rainstorms and snowmelt.

They also have partnered with Mower Soil & Water Conservation District and University of Minnesota to support ongoing soil-health research projects that include studying their land’s soil health.

For all these efforts, Mower SWCD’s Board of Supervisors awarded the Angells as Mower County’s 2023 Outstanding Conservationists. In December, the Angells joined dozens of other conservation farmers and landowners in the Twin Cities for recognition at the Minnesota Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts’ 87th annual convention.

Started in 1958 by Gary’s father Donald Angell, the Angells’ farm today operates 1,500 acres in central Mower County, raising corn, soybeans and hogs.

Gary builds ridges every other year in the fall and deep bands nutrient applications into his cropland. With ridge till, the Angells have seen improvements to the soil structure, less compaction, increased soil organic matter and higher counts of earthworms.

The Angells also use variable-rate fertilizer and split application for their nutrient program to minimize nutrient loss and increase productivity.

Mower SWCD’s board also awarded Gus and Ann Maxfield as its 2023 Outstanding Wildlife Conservationists for their extensive efforts to create and support wildlife habitat along the Cedar River near the village of Lansing, north of Austin.

At the MASWCD annual conference in December, the Maxfields were honored with the 2023 MASWCD/Pheasants Forever Wildlife Habitat Steward Award after being nominated by Mower SWCD. This cosponsored award honors landowners who have implemented extensive wildlife habitat management practices that result in the highest quality habitat and promote biodiversity.

Maxfields’ efforts on their land has included planting many trees bought from Mower SWCD’s annual program and working with staff to convert 120 acres of cropland to permanent conservation prairie and wetlands through the state’s Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program. They also worked with Mower SWCD years ago on projects to plug ditches and conduct a complete wetland restoration along Mower County Road 2, east of Lansing.

They also release pheasants and contribute greatly to the annual fundraiser banquet by the Mower County Chapter of Pheasants Forever, which puts money back into wildlife-conservation efforts locally. Gus Maxfield also coaches the Austin youth trap-shooting team and hosts youth hunts for pheasant and waterfowl every year.

Gus and Ann Maxfield also own goats that are moved around to areas with heavy amounts of the invasive buckthorn plant, including at Austin’s Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.