University of Minnesota launches new app to connect farmers

A new digital platform, developed by the University of Minnesota extension, is bringing farmers together from across the state. The app is called Farm Map, and it's designed as a resource for farmers who may be looking for advice and guidance on the adoption of new techniques and practices. 

Farms that are listed on the app have participated in different case studies regarding soil health, snow fences or silvopasture. Farmers can locate nearby farms, read about those case studies, and even connect with other farmers to learn what worked, or what didn't. 

"We have farmers that have learned a lot in this process, you know they try different things. They are innovators, and they make things work. I think that research really helps, but then the farmers on the own make changes and improve the system. That's part of the reason the farmer-to-farmer conversations are important," says Dean Current, Director for the Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management at the University. 

Current says this idea sparked years ago, in an effort to make soil health practices more widespread. He says since its inception they have expanded beyond just soil health practices, but now more and more farmers are working with MnDOT and putting up soil fences on their land. 

"When you bring this up to farmers there is often a lot of resistance. They can think of a lot of reasons they don't want to do that, but the idea there is with the app they could talk to another farmer, they could walk through what they had to do, if they had any issues," says Current.  

One of the first farmers to participate in a case study was Jerry Ackermann of Ackermann Farms in Jackson County. In the early 2000s Jerry began new soil health techniques that helped bring them some of their best crop. His case study has reached dozens of farmers from across the state that have reached out to him to learn more about his farm. 

"It's a learning curve for a lot of people to do some changes, and sometimes you have to change equipment. But you visit with other farmers, 'what did you do, how did you change' and get some perspective," says Ackermann.  "So, I was guilty of that same thing. I didn't want to change, but talking to other farmers I gained the courage to try it and we've had some of the best years we've had." 

Developers hope this app will continue to grow not only statewide, but hopefully one day on an international scale.