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Childhood Landscape Inspires a Conservation Career

Caryl Radatz with her parents, Charles and Coralyn Radatz, in front of John Deere tractor used to install contour strips in 1943.

Caryl Radatz with her parents, Charles and Coralyn Radatz, in front of John Deere tractor used to install contour strips in 1943.

The views are breathtaking in what’s known as the “driftless area” in the upper Midwest, which encompasses parts of southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northeast Iowa and northwest Illinois. This unique area was bypassed by retreating glaciers during the end of the last Ice Age several thousand years ago, leaving a steep, rugged landscape in their wake. It also inspired at least one local, Caryl Radatz, to pursue a career in conservation.

Radatz now works for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), where she serves as the Minnesota NRCS State Soil Scientist, Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) Leader. But her path there began on a small dairy farm near Lewiston, Minnesota, in the heart of the driftless area, which is beautiful but contains soils that are prone to erosion, making conservation on agricultural lands especially important. Her family’s farm incorporated several conservation practices such as crop rotations, conservation tillage, grassed waterways and contour strip cropping.

Radatz’ parents, Charles and Coralyn, instilled in her early the importance of being actively involved in their farming operation, where she gained a solid understanding of agriculture. This meant being involved with the daily ritual of milking cows morning and night, year round, and being involved in the planting and harvesting of crops. In the Radatz family, the second oldest child, Ray, took over the family farm  leaving the third child, Caryl, free to pursue a career elsewhere in agriculture. She ended up studying at the University of Minnesota, where she majored in soil science.

Upon graduation, Radatz went to work for NRCS. Growing up in the driftless area, Radatz had learned that soil moving off a landscape causes environmental degradation elsewhere. She credits her background with inspiring her to study soil and become a conservationist.

Her career with NRCS has taken her to Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri, along with temporary work assignments to NRCS’ headquarters in Washington, DC.

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