Breaking the Norm

Young Farmer Continues Family Legacy

“I have a legacy to maintain,” Kari Olson, 4th generation farmer, said. “I want to be successful and preserve the soil for future generations.”

Robert Olson Farms Inc. is 4th generation with the potential of 5th in the making! From left: Sister, Nicole and her daughter, Elise; parents, Rob and Lonna; Kari; grandparents, Bob and Helen. Nicole works on the farm.

Olson is transitioning into farming with her father on their operation, Robert Olson Farms Inc., near Hawley, MN. She started working on her family operation as a Senior in High School, as well as rented her first acres as an 18-year-old.

Following High School graduation, Olson attended North Dakota State University for Agriculture Economics with a Crop and Weed Science Minor. “I came home to transition in at the farm,” Olson said. “I want to start learning and gaining experience from my dad while he is still in the business.”

This young farmer currently rents and owns 700 of the 2,300 family-owned acres and works with her father to grow soybeans, corn, and wheat. In addition, 16-years-ago, this Northwestern Minnesota farm began breaking the norm and adding no-till practices to their operation. Six-years-ago, adding cover crops.

“Farmers adopting these practices have been slow in our county,” Olson said. “We are one of the few that do things a little different around here, but it works for us.”

Although farmers say cover crops do not work as far north as the Olson’s, and often thought they were crazy, the family gave it a try and today are taking the farm to new levels. “We started with no-till on a lighter soil bed for soybeans after corn,” Olson said. “After this was successful, we attempted it on our heavier ground soybeans, wheat and lastly corn. The yield was comparable, our inputs decreased, and in the spring, earthworms filled the ground beneath our feet.”

To the family, the earthworms and aggregate structure in the soil demonstrate trafficability. Biology and microbes are working in this soil and helping capture those nutrients. “I want to keep our valuable soil where we have it,” Olson said. “We’re not seeing the soil blow or wash away anymore on our property, and our soil and nutrients stay where they are.”

In the winter months, Olson continues to learn, attending meetings, reading research and social media to gain new ideas, and working with Abbey Wick from NDSU to study soil and talking with farmers implementing these practices. “If you don’t keep learning, you are not moving forward,” Olson said. “I want to take the farm to new levels, and I can do that by continuing to learn and bring in new ideas.”

In the future, Olson’s goal is to add the missing piece, cattle. Olson believes cattle will speed up the soil health process.  

As a proud woman in agriculture, Olson is an outdoors person, often found building things and driving equipment. “My dad treats me as an equal,” Olson said. “People have their opinions, but we as women need to have thick skin. We can do anything men can do.”

Olson encourages you to give it a try. Be open to new ways and take on a step in the soil health direction. Patience is key, but in the end like us, you will too take pride in conserving your soils.

“I am grateful for the opportunity I was given from older generations,” Olson said.  “My dad is ahead of the game in this transition and he is willing to teach me and let me take the reins.”


  1. I think what you are doing with your Dad is amazing. Trying to improve our soil the way your family is, is going to Improve our health by providing a more healthier food choices. Keep up the good work and enjoy life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have Questions?

  • Optional