After farming for five generations and more than 80 years along the Joubert Creek, the Heese family knows a thing or two about the health and quality of the watercourse than transects their land.
The Grunthal-area dairy farmers have farmed alongside the river since the mid-1920s when the patriarch, Dietrich Heese, moved his family from Dominion City to a small homestead here. In 1946, he and his 16-year-old son, William, expanded north of the creek, building a new dairy barn in 1954 and expanding their dairy herd.
Today they continue to milk 60 cows on a farm that is still 85-year-old William’s home, while his son Eric, and Eric’s son Nicholas, and their families now run Heese Dairy Farm together.
The family was honoured last year by the Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) as the recipient of the SRRCD Conservation Award for outstanding environmental accomplishments for their efforts to improve the health of the portion of Joubert Creek that runs through their landbase.
Joubert Creek has long been an area of riparian and water quality concern as a result of farm practices along its shores.
They contributed to that at one time too, Eric Heese said. “Back in the years (when) we had the cows roaming around there all summer,” he said.
But now that riparian area is protected by a fence.
Two years ago, the Heeses worked with the SRRCD, which helped cover some of the costs to fence off two miles of the creek. They also added an alternative water source for the livestock after restricting their access to the river.
“On the other side of the creek we have two dugouts and we had to fence off the dugouts, so we applied for a grant for a solar pump,” explains Heese. “Now the cattle just drink out of there and don’t walk into the dugouts either.”
In addition, they made significant upgrades to a livestock crossing across the river, and have planted willows along the riverbanks for bank stabilization.
They’re now seeing the payback from it all, including reduced erosion, run-off, effluent and compaction of the creek’s banks, Heese said.
The SRRCD notes on its website that land use notably affects the phosphate levels of the water courses. Joubert Creek has much higher phosphorus levels than the upper Rat River, which may be due to more land along the Joubert Creek being used for intensive agriculture and the resulting phosphorus-laden surface run-off.
SRRCD officials commend the Heeses for their dedication to the protection of the Joubert Creek, saying the family dairy farm is a community role model in water quality protection and environmental farm management.
Heese says it was simply the right thing to do. But he knows farmers still need some convincing to do likewise.
“I think farmers are reluctant to let people into their backyard,” he said. “But I think as more people see this, more people will do it.”
There is also funding to help farms make these upgrades, he said. But bottom line, water quality in Manitoba should be everyone’s concern.
“I know that I’m contributing and trying to keep the water clean,” he said. “I’m doing my part.”
The SRRCD will cover up to 75 per cent of the total project costs, up to a maximum of $4,000 to fence off riparian areas, a maximum of $7,500 to establish a watering system once fencing is in place. Livestock crossings will also be funded at that percentage level up to a maximum of $1,000.
Funding for these CD programs flows through provincial Growing Assurance funding set aside for ecological goods and services.