GOODHUE -- It's safe to assume Thomas Steger knows more about the natural resources in Goodhue County than most.
As a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Steger has helped farms with gullies after a rainstorm, establish contour buffer strips, and reduce soil erosion for the past 30 years.
Steger retired this month, ending a four decade career spanning five counties.
Growing up on a farm near Prairie du Chien, Wis., was Steger's first insight into how soil conservation works. He remembers laying contour buffer strips and putting in small dams to reduce soil erosion. The engineering aspects of the job aligned with his interests in science and math.
After stints in Wisconsin and the Red River Valley, Steger came to Goodhue County. If you've never called someone like Steger or another United States Department of Agriculture employee, they usually assist in a couple ways:
- helping a new landowner find the best ways to manage property.
- assessing land after a storm causes damage.
Lately, Steger said they've helped people implement USDA programs on their farm or property.
When he started, Steger estimated that 99% of the calls were about soil erosion. In Goodhue County, Steger said the area is prone to soil erosion because of the hilly topography. The area has well draining fields and fertile soil, but can be have run-off or other issues from time to time.
In the last five or six years, a more widely discussed term is soil health, keeping the natural resources as healthy as possible while also maximizing yields.
Assisting farmers and people to be good stewards of the land was his favorite part of his job, Steger said -- whether that meant discussing cutting down on pesticides or designing a small dam to limit runoff.
“Helping people in whatever manner it is is what makes me work, makes me go," Steger said.
Aside from the friendships and camaraderie in the county he's been able to forge, Steger said he can still see the contour strips he's laid and other projects still holding up on people's land.
His impact will be felt for decades to come and has made Goodhue County a healthier and sound place for not just farmers, but all.
Steger said he looks forward in tackling projects he previously didn't have time for in his retirement.
And he'll even come check out a field or two, if you ask nicely.