Lance Klessig finds in-person and YouTube audience for his sustainability education
Lance Klessig, a resource specialist for Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District, has built a strong following through his in-person workshops and his YouTube channel.
Lance Klessig was a guest on the Agweek Podcast , with reporter Noah Fish.
Lance Klessig is a popular contact for producers in Southeast Minnesota looking to implement more sustainable practices on their farms — and his YouTube channel, with videos that have racked up thousands of views, has made him known across the Midwest in agriculture circles.
Growing up on a rotationally grazed cow-calf beef farm in Amherst, Wisconsin, Klessig said he knew he wanted to go into an agricultural career.
"I definitely always had a passion for farming, and taking care of the land," he said. "I just really enjoyed and still enjoy that."
He said the name Lance was chosen by his parents because it means "of the land" in German. Klessig's late father, Lowell Klessig, began his career as a lake district specialist with University of Wisconsin-Extension. He traveled throughout the state of Wisconsin to help lake property owners and county boards develop stewardship plans and lake districts.
Wanting to make his own path in agriculture, Lance Klessig attended UW-Eau Claire and earned a degree in resource management geography, with an emphasis in GIS, land use and soils.
"So not necessarily a direct agricultural degree, but I was able to have a couple different internships along the way to continue to channel my energies and enthusiasm into conservation and regenerative farming," said Klessig.
His dream at that time was to have both a job in conservation as well as manning his own farm, which has come true today.
With his wife and five children, Klessig purchased a Winona County farm in March 2020 between Nodine and Ridgeway. He said the land was about half a working farm of corn and soybean crops when they purchased it.
"We converted it to basically a grass-based system," he said.
They did that by planting two different cover crop mixes last year which was taken off for forage — then this year, planted most of that in a perennial grazing mix. They custom graze bred Red Angus and Limousin heifers and raise pastured pork. Klessig said they also have 23 goats which they use to clean up invasive plants along fence lines and woods.
"We're definitely trying to optimize the land base that we have," said Klessig.
He said "probably the biggest" part of their farm is hosting people on it. In their cottage and bungalow, they host visitors who can pick their own eggs, get honey and buy meat from them.
"That's the route we're going, and it's been really a blessing in a lot of ways," he said.
A day in the life
Klessig begins his days around 5:30 a.m. by feeding their heifers and 120 laying hens. He gets to work at the SWCD office by 8 a.m., where he works on engineering and designing waterways as well as different conservation practices. But Klessig said his favorite part of the job is the direct work he does with farmers.
"I spend probably two-thirds of my time working on helping farmers that want to try cover crops, convert their farm to more no-till or trying to make some of those adjustments with their crop management and agronomy side of things," said Klessig. "So I spend quite a bit of my time just meeting with farmers one to one."
He also hosts educational workshops, like the one on Aug. 10 which had over 250 guests ranging from five different states come out for a field day with multiple demonstrations of cover cropping techniques.
Once his day job is finished, he's back home to help look after his kids and move the chickens around, as well as the cattle and goats.
Klessig said he feels like having his own operation helps him connect with farmers about theirs.
"That gives you not only credibility, but you can really relate on a one-to-one basis," he said. "I think just the passion of loving the land, loving farming and the rural lifestyle, I think comes through by not only owning our own farm but then working as a resource specialist too."
Klessig's YouTube channel has nearly 3,000 subscribers and his most popular video has over 69,000 views. It all started, he explained, on a trip three years ago to Gabe Brown's ranch in Bismarck, North Dakota. Brown is considered to be a pioneer in the soil health movement.
He was traveling with neighbors who also farm, and they all had chipped in to pay the fee to spend a day with Brown on his ranch, to learn from the expert. Klessig said one of his friends dared him on the drive to North Dakota to interview Brown on camera.
"And before long, I had about three, four questions written out that I had on an index card in my back pocket," he said. "We built the relationship (with Brown) throughout the day, and then later on during the day, I was able to ask him if he'd be willing to do a video. And so with that, that's kind of how the first video was taken."
A friend of his held his iPhone 7 as Klessig stood next to Brown in his most profitable crop, asking him questions.
"That kind of started the journey," he said. "I really like sharing what I'm learning but also interviewing farmers and ranchers."
The key to thriving on YouTube is consistency, and Klessig said that's how he gained his following, by posting multiple videos each week. He's been busy with work and the farm lately, so he hasn't posted in a couple of weeks. But he said he has about "30-40 videos in the hopper" that he has yet to edit.
With the significant following, Klessig said he's considering cashing in on the popularity, but not yet.
"I've been asked many times why I'm not currently monetizing it," he said. "I think part of it is just because I enjoy sharing when I'm learning, and there doesn't always have to be money attached to things."
"It's just really a way to share what's working for different farmers, and what's not working, and what they do different — and get the word out about soil health."