SWCD News and Updates

John & Julie Essame named 2019 SWCD Conservationist of the Year

The Yellow Medicine Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is honored to award an outstanding conservationist every year. The honorees for the year 2019 are John and Julie Essame of Belview. The farm has been in Julie’s family for 148 years and has been a leader in conservation of our precious resources all the while.

John and Julie Essame have dedicated a lot of time into conservation on their 200+acre property. They are always researching new ways to reestablish their land to its native state. They work with the Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resource Conservation Services, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, United States Department of Agriculture, and different counties to put conservation into practice. The Essame’s have been working with the local SWCDs where their properties exist for decades. Since they reside on the county edge, they not only work with the Yellow Medicine SWCD but also partner with the Chippewa SWCD as well. They have preserved 40 acres of rare exposed Granite bedrock outcrop by protecting it with a permanent easement. Each year they spend a lot of time trying to maintain Oak Savannah native vegetation by removing and controlling buckthorn and cedars.

 

Their property has been used for research in the MNDNR non game species research on the rare blue tailed Prairie Skink along with different rare snake species. John has also collected local Upland Milkweed seed and created his own plot to benefit Monarch butterflies. This fall, he is planning on adding an area of native flowers nearby to benefit pollinators. For years, they have raised sheep and rotationally grazed them on their pasture land. The waterways on their property have had wide conservation buffers for years. They have converted 30 acres of cropland and an additional 20 donated acres into a floodplain restoration along the Minnesota River protected by a permanent conservation easement.

 

We are honored to have John and Julie Essame as our conservationist of the year. They continue to implement conservation and preserve their land. As Yellow Medicine’s Soil & Water Conservation District awardee, the Essame’s was also nominated to the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’, MASWCD, Outstanding conservationist Award. This honor also extends them an invitation to the annual MASWCD convention. Thank you, John and Julie Essame, for your commitment to conservation.

SWCD NOW TAKING TREE ORDERS (December, 2019)

Since 1961, the SWCD has planned, planted, sold and established trees for windbreak rows in fields to mitigate soil erosion from wind. Today, the SWCD still sells, plans, advises, and provides for the sale and installation of products to ensure a successful planting. Much like shingles on your roof or siding on your house, a farmstead shelter belt or grove is necessary to keep energy costs low and control snow in your yard when you live in a rural setting. While field windbreaks still have their place in high erosion settings, groves and the renovation of them are the bread and butter of our Tree Program.  

The Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District is now taking orders for spring of 2020 tree planting projects. This is the perfect time to take a walk through your grove to see if there are any rows that need to be replaced, maybe preparation for replacing rows in the future or if you just want to add a new row of trees to have some new fall color.  This year is the perfect year to start your project.  Stop into the office or call to talk with one of our technicians who can meet with you to discuss your needs, we can also meet at your site.   By ordering early in the season you have more options available for your planting and allows ample time to complete a design for your project before the busy planting season arrives.  We offer potted evergreen trees in various sizes, and bare root trees and shrubs.  Along with supplying the trees we offer installation services of planting, matting, and installing tree tubes. 

 Tree planting is done with a tree planter that is pulled behind a tractor.  The planter can plant bare root trees and shrubs up to an evergreen tree in a number 1 (#1) pot size.  Plastic mulch comes in both continuous fabric and individual fabric squares.  Continuous fabric is installed with a fabric machine that attaches to a Category 2 tractor three-point hitch. Plastic mulch around trees and shrubs can increase soil moisture near the roots and reduce competition of grasses and weeds.  Tree tubes installed in conjunction with matting will give newly planted trees the best chance at getting rooted in the initial planting year and surviving through the winter.  Tree tubes act like a greenhouse around each tree allowing the tree to gain additional height the first and second growing season.  Tubes also protect the trees from depredation by deer and rabbits, reducing losses. 

Ask us about Plantskydd to reduce deer and rabbit depredation on your trees and shrubs.  Applied by sprayer or in a granular form this organic mixture is effective at repelling deer and other herbivores for most of the winter. 

 If your project is going to be used to protect livestock buildings, pastures, or a feedlot you may be eligible for cost share funding through EQIP.  Stop into or call the NRCS office and see if you could be eligible for available cost share.  To learn more about renovating your grove or establishing field windbreaks, Contact Kurt Johnson or Brayden Anderson at the Yellow Medicine SWCD today!

Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program(AWQCP) Brooke Buysse, Water Resources Technician

 

Looking for a way to make your farm stand out and get priority status for conservation program funding? Sign up for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program today! This is a voluntary program for farmers and agricultural landowners to show what conservation practices they are implementing to protect our water quality. Certified farms will receive a priority status when it comes for conservation program funding.

Once you have been certified there is a 10-year time frame where you would be exempt from any new water quality rules, laws, or regulations. There is also a set of funds specifically designated for financial assistance to implement and promote water quality projects.

 

As part of a Yellow Medicine Watershed Plan goal, we are seeking to collect five applications per year within the Yellow Medicine River Watershed and surrounding area. This plan, a product of the One Watershed One Plan initiative is a locally adopted plan that is composed by citizens, landowners, and local government officials to restore and protect our watersheds resources. As of November 1, 2019, we have 10 totally certified farms in Yellow Medicine County since the program began in 2016. Currently, we have 9 other farmers working on the assessment and certification portion of the program.

 

If you are interested in becoming a certified farm, please contact your local Soil & Water Conservation District. There is a simple application to fill out followed by the assessment process with our local certifier. The assessment consists of looking at information such as soil test reports, nutrient application, manure application, and pesticide application. The certifier will also conduct field visits to look at other landscape concerns for water quality.

 

Farms pursuing certification would also have priority for designated technical and financial assistance to implement conservation practices that promote water quality.

Drainage Water Management: save the water for when you need it.

 

The water logged soils of this year have many landowners and operators thinking about effective drainage. There are ways to extend the useful window of water subject to removal by agricultural drainage. Tile drainage has become popular in areas where soils have poor internal drainage because it helps to convert land that would otherwise be too wet to consistently farm into highly productive cropland. While the benefits of tile drainage are improved traffic-ability and increased crop yields, the practice also delivers nitrates and phosphorus to stream systems which have a detrimental impact on water quality. One strategy that can be used to reduce nitrates in tile drainage water is drainage water management. With drainage water management, water level control structures are included as a part of the tile drainage system, and these structures are used to manipulate water levels at different times during the year. The greatest nitrate removal benefits occur when water levels are maintained in the biologically active zone during the growing season where nitrates can be converted to nitrogen gas by denitrifying bacteria. A properly managed system can also increase crop yields by conserving water in the soil profile for crops to utilize. When is drainage water management a good fit for a new or an existing tile drainage system? Generally, drainage water management is unfeasible on land slopes greater than about one percent. It may be possible to retrofit existing tile installations with water level control structures depending on how the tile layout fits with the field topography. Tile systems utilizing drainage water management do not require closer tile spacing, but tile layout should be aligned with the field’s contours as much as possible in order to provide the most complete coverage and consistent water levels across the field. State and Federal funds are available for assistance in planning and installing these type of systems. Retrofits can also be added in some situations to implement subsurface irrigation in feasible locations.

Del Clark Lake near Canby, MN from the shoreline of

Stone Hill Regional Park on a warm August day.

Partnering to Protect Canby Creek

                                                              Tyler Knutson, Yellow Medicine SWCD

In 2018, the Yellow Medicine SWCD joined together with the Lac qui Parle-Yellow Bank (LQP-YB) Watershed District, based in Madison, MN to seek funds to protect Canby Creek and Del Clark Lake near Canby, MN. A successful $300,000 grant application by the watershed district will result in three major water quality structures near Del Clark Lake and multiple upstream projects to prevent erosion and improve water quality. Mitch Enderson, Coordinator of the LQP-YB Watershed District was able to successfully make the case to get the grant funded through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, with information from a study supported by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council. These Clean Water Fund allocations were made possible by Minnesota voters through the 2008 Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment.

Well before the grant application was approved for funding, the SWCD’s technicians Brooke Buysse and Brayden Anderson were hard at work sending out letters and making phone calls to folks in these areas to promote practices and educate about the possibility of funding. These preliminary outreach efforts are vital to a successful and funded project. Upwards of a dozen interested parties in Yellow Medicine and Lincoln Counties indicated a willingness to partner on the project and do what they could on their land to protect the water quality of Canby Creek and Del Clark Lake. Stakeholders, such as residents and farmers in the area, were also involved in workshops to identify priorities that needed focus in this area as targeted conservation work occurred. These workshop were the source of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s support.

Del Clark Lake is a human made reservoir built with an earthen embankment, outlet device, and emergency spillway in the flow path of Canby Creek and what used to be pastureland. Its chief uses are to permanently retain an amount of water for aquatic recreation and to detain overflow water from upstream and meter it out slowly to prevent flooding damage in the City of Canby. The lake and surrounding land are owned the LQP-YB Watershed District. The lake also has a regional park, beach, campground, and boat landing all owned, operated and maintained by the LQP-YB Watershed District and its staff. The lake is part of a series of three similar structures in the area constructed to reduce flooding problems and have a positive recreational effect in the area.

The Yellow Medicine River flows by at Upper Sioux Agency State Park near its confluence with the Minnesota River

Making Progress in the Yellow Medicine Watershed

                             Tyler Knutson, Yellow Medicine SWCD

Through the work of partners from multiple levels of government staff and elected officials around the area and private landowners and stewards, the health of the Yellow Medicine River Watershed and surrounding area is on a course for restoration and protection of water quality. In late 2016, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources approved the Yellow Medicine River Comprehensive Local Water Management Plan. This pilot plan, developed by the public with advice and consent from State of Minnesota agencies, is designed to schedule improvement in the overall health of the Yellow Medicine River, Wood Lake Creek, Boiling Spring Creek, Stony Run Creek, and their tributaries. Since 2012, a process has been underway statewide to move to a watershed based water planning framework. Yellow Medicine’s plan is one of the first 5 to be approved and one of the most cooperative, efficient, and effective plans to date, according to some state officials.

The partners in Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lyon, and Lac qui Parle counties have worked together on plan action items. For example, the team has seen increased buffer law compliance. This being closer to the expected 100% compliance. Dozens of assessments have been completed for the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program. Certification demonstrates that a farm has implemented appropriate practices to protect water quality and other conservation issues appropriate for mitigation of pollution and other conservation issues on its acres. The Yellow Medicine SWCD and County have initiated a partnership with the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to map the geology and groundwater resources in the county. Numerous structural best management practices, conservation easements, open tile intake removal, cover crops plantings, and the use of no till are all scheduled, underway, or completely implemented across the 600,000 acre plus watershed. This implementation has been made possible with over a half million dollars in Legacy Amendment Clean Water Funds from a 3/8 cent sales tax ratified by Minnesota voters in 2008. An additional $124,000 and $373,000 of federal funding has been set aside and allocated to projects in the geographic priority sectors of the plan. This unprecedented investment by the state and federal governments leverages itself and sets up for even more dedicated funding to projects and efforts of different plan components. Many of these projects can be seen underway in the form of the use of cover crops, structural practices, enhanced engineering with conservation in mind on drainage systems, and abandoned wells being sealed.

Through the resources of a motivated and professional staff, partners in the private and public sector, and active land stewards, the SWCD has been able to successfully increase its own capacity to provide the best technical services to stakeholders in Yellow Medicine County and the surrounding areas in the same watersheds. As a list of dozens of projects and issues on the landscape continues to grow, the SWCD makes contact and provides investigation, analysis and presentation of alternatives to solve conservation planning goals on the landscape, mostly on private lands. These services all tie back to goals set forth in the plans directed by stakeholders. As these landscape problems find themselves solved in harmony with watershed goals little by little, the SWCD and partners get to celebrate accomplishments toward restored and protected water resources in the planning area and other work areas.

As laid out in the plan, partnership between the county and SWCD governments has led to the critical work of mapping the geology of the area and the groundwater resources. Public water suppliers, future generations of conservation planners, private decision makers and the public in general will take interest in and make use of a Geologic Atlas of each county. For example, in late 2018, the Yellow Medicine County Board requested the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to begin work with the SWCD to verify the records and existence of over 400 of borings into the earth to understand the geologic layers that each went through to complete the task. Staff at the University will use this confirmed data to identify areas in need of further study and map out the varying lenses that were drilled through. All of this work will culminate into a detailed map which tells the story of what we cannot see hundreds of feet below the earth in order to better understand how to utilize resources with minimal human impact during development, mitigation and protection.

In August, the work of this plan will get its first report card. At the Minneota Sportman’s Club the public and advisory committee that was convened at the plan’s inception will gather to discuss the work completed, in progress and to come by the implementation of the plan, the progress it has made, emerging issues, and the road ahead. There is much work to be done and an incredible amount of resources coming into the area for the restoration and protection of the Yellow Medicine Watershed. Your input and involvement is encouraged and appreciated as we continue on the road to cleaner water and a healthier landscape.

 

 

MEET SWCD SUMMER CONSERVATION TECHNICIAN APPRENTICE, ALI MILLER My name is Ali Miller and I am one of the two Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Conservation Technician Apprentices working with the office this summer. I was born and raised in Sacred Heart, Minnesota. I attended Renville County West Elementary School before transferring to Yellow Medicine East to complete my high school education.  I graduated high school in May of 2017 and chose to continue my education at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. At UWRF, I am majoring in Agricultural Business with an Animal Science emphasis. I am active in Alpha Zeta and am the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences representative for Agricultural Business and Marketing Society. I will be starting my senior year this fall and plan to pursue a position in an agriculture related field after graduation.

 

I love spending time with family, friends and pets.  I enjoy hunting and exploring nature. My favorite thing to do is travel because it allows me to learn so much about other cultures and their history.  I just got back from a month long trip around Europe and will be going to Alaska later in July. One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to compare the different agricultural practices to what we do in Southwest Minnesota. In high school, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the FFA President for our chapter. I enjoyed being in FFA and was able to travel to Hawaii and California with our group and that is where I gained a love for travel and for learning about different agricultural practices.  It amazes me how different agriculture is in various regions but yet how interconnected we all are.

 

I am very thankful that I was one of the students chosen for this internship. I will benefit from this experience because of my desire to learn about the conservation practices and how taking care of our resources will help protect them for years to come. This internship will also give me a better understanding of agriculture as a whole and how to improve agriculture to make our practices more environmentally friendly and sustainable. The staff at Yellow Medicine SWCD are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I am very fortunate to have secured an internship where I can develop lifelong skills to help conserve our resources.

Ali identifies aquatic vegetation at Tyson Lake near Echo, MN while educating students.

 

LANDON ABRAHAM JOINS SWCD SUMMER STAFF

My name is Landon Abraham. I am one of the two Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Conservation Technician Apprentices working with the office this year. I grew up on a farm in Yellow Medicine County near St. Leo, Minnesota. I graduated high school in May 2018 from Minneota High School. I currently attend South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota and will be starting my sophomore year this fall. I am currently majoring in agronomy with a minor in ag business. After my undergrad, I hope to go on and get a master’s degree in plant science. Eventually, I hope to become a plant breeder. I do a couple of things in my spare time like helping in the field on our family’s farm operation, fish, watching or playing sports, and hanging out with friends. I enjoy being out and about and being outside. I am very excited about starting this internship to broaden my experiences and knowledge about our resources. I feel that it will help me with some of my core classes in college, and I am excited that I will be able to spend some of my time outside. So far, my favorite parts about my internship are the staff being so welcoming providing a great atmosphere and the staff being proactive in showing me what they are working on and encouraging me to ask questions. It has been interesting understanding all of the programs and what has to be done for different projects. This temporary position includes working with the trees sales and planting program, inspecting conservation projects, and practices with technical staff, observing all facets of the SWCD and working closely with SWCD partners to implement conservation and experience all that is possible in the conservation world. I am excited for this opportunity and grateful to be part of Yellow Medicine SWCD.

Landon works on an aquatic robot for an SWCD and 4H partnership project.

LEADING FARM, CONSERVATION AND WILDLIFE GROUPS UNITE IN SUPPORT OF PROTECTING CONSERVATION FUNDING

Appropriators urged to build on the farm bill’s commitment to conservation

WASHINGTON – Having succeeded in protecting funding for the Conservation Title in the 2018 Farm Bill, more than 140 leading farm, conservation and wildlife groups are once again joining together to protect those hard-fought conservation funds and programs in the fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations process.

In a letter delivered on Apr. 2, the groups, which include the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), National Farmers Union (NFU), National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and American Farmland Trust (AFT), called upon appropriators to respect the funding decisions made in the 2018 Farm Bill and reject any cuts to farm bill conservation funding through the appropriations process.

Farm bill conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), play a vital role in helping farmers, ranchers and landowners to keep their lands sustainable and profitable for generations to come.

“America’s farmers and ranchers worked hard to ensure that the 2018 Farm Bill included support for the conservation programs they rely upon,” said Alyssa Charney, NSAC Senior Policy Specialist. “The Agriculture Committees listened when farmers told them what they needed to thrive, and now we are asking congressional appropriators to do the same. The farm bill process is closed; appropriators should seek to build upon the foundation laid by the 2018 Farm Bill, not attempt to undercut it. Appropriators have protected these programs in their last two funding bills, and we now ask them to continue to do so in FY 2020.”

“As America’s farm and ranch families endure significant environmental and economic challenges, it is as important as ever that we maintain funding for voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs,” said Roger Johnson, President, NFU. “Congress just last year passed a farm bill with strong provisions and mandatory funding for conservation programs. Appropriators should reject changes that were settled in the process of crafting the farm bill and provide adequate funding to NRCS staff to fulfill their important role in ensuring the sustainability of family farms across the country.”

“Farm bill conservation programs are critical to addressing America’s wildlife crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We call on lawmakers to reject any efforts to cut mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs. These effective and widely supported programs give farmers and ranchers the tools they need to voluntarily restore important habitat for wildlife across America’s working lands and proactively recover at-risk wildlife populations.”

In their letter, the 146 organizations also urged appropriators to protect funding for conservation technical assistance (CTA).

“Ensuring full funding of CTA and farm bill programs will continue to allow conservation districts to work hand-in-hand with NRCS at the local level to deliver conservation on America’s landscapes,” NACD President Tim Palmer said. “Farm bill conservation programs are essential to our nation’s producers, as well as the consumers of their products. We urge Congress to protect and sustain conservation funding to allow our producers to continue providing a safe, reliable food supply while emphasizing locally-led conservation solutions to improve the quality of our nation’s soil, water and natural resources.”

The wide range of organizations signed on to the letter speaks to how significantly any cuts to conservation programs and technical assistance would be felt across the country.

“Farm bill conservation programs are critical to the efforts of farmers and ranchers across this country to voluntarily protect their land from development and implement environmentally sound farming practices,” said John Piotti, President and CEO of American Farmland Trust. “At a time when we are losing three acres of farmland per minute, it is absolutely necessary to save every last dollar for these programs and serve as many farmers and ranchers as possible.”

AFT, NACD, NFU, NSAC and NWF stand united with the more than 140 co-signed organizations in urging appropriators to protect funding for critical conservation programs and technical assistance in FY 2020.

Fishing Opener Reminder!

As you are preparing yourselves to head out to your favorite fishing spot, we would like to remind you to take precautions to keep our local lakes free of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). Remember to take the time to remove all aquatic plants from your boat and trailer, drain the water from your boat, allow the five days dry time between lake visits, and avoid transporting lake water in your bait buckets. Just these few short minutes can make a huge difference in the preventing the spread of AIS.

There are new studies suggesting that zebra mussels and spiny waterflea can negatively affect walleye populations due to the changes being made in the food web. The AIS consume small aquatic plants that walleye fry feed on outcompeting our favorite sport fish. Spiny waterflea have also been found balled up in the stomachs of young perch. The young fish consume them and then are unable to digest the spiny barb. Multiple barbs in the fish’s stomach ball up and make little punctures in the stomach walls.

Spiny Waterflea

Zebra Mussels

Photo credit: Jeff Gunderson

Photo credit:       Department of Natural Resources

2018 Precipitation numbers finalized for Yellow Medicine County

Are you a weather buff? Looking for weather predictions and trends? The Minnesota State Climatology Office has a place for you to get information.  Go to climate.umn.edu to find climate related information and links. Measurable precipitation is an important piece of information when analyzing our weather and climate.

Yellow Medicine County has a great group of MNGAGE volunteers monitoring and recording rainfalls for our area.  They include: Wanda Luepke, Echo; Menno Fokken, Canby; Kevin Doom, Canby; Kris Brusven, Cottonwood; Charlie Pearson, Canby; Jeff Remiger, Hanley Falls; Rodney Gaffney, Minneota; Richard Rogers, Porter; Ed Krosch, Wood Lake. These observers use uniform, scientific equipment and methods to ensure accuracy in data collection.  We are so grateful to these volunteers for contributing their time and effort to monitoring our climate. If you have an interest in monitoring precipitation, please contact our office. The data gathered assists in measuring past weather conditions, predicting future weather trends and so much more.    

The report figure is a summary of the monthly precipitation in Yellow Medicine County in 2018.

Aquatic Robotics

The Yellow Medicine Soil & Water Conservation District, SWCD, has partnered with the Yellow Medicine County 4-H program to begin an Aquatic Robotics program. In the spring of 2018 we began the program in Clarkfield. The students met once every two weeks for three months. We began with discussing aquatic invasive species (AIS), followed by building our robot, and concluded last season with test driving the robot at the pool. This year we are starting earlier to allow us to take our robot(s) out to the local lakes and see what we can find. We are hoping to see what native species we have in our lakes and if there are AIS being able to identify them. Students will also have the option to make additions to the robot such as a movable arm, net, etc. This allows for each group to be unique.

If you know a student you think would be interested in our Aquatic Robotics program, feel free to contact Brooke Buysse at brooke.buysse@mn.nacdnet.net or 320-669-4442, ext. 3. At this point the only interest we have had has been in Clarkfield, but we are willing to work anywhere in Yellow Medicine County. We ask that there are three students per robot: one to operate, one to help with the cords, and one to watch the fish camera. Everyone alternates and gets to experience each aspect. If you are an adult and are interested in volunteering with the robotics program, please let Brooke know as well.

Local Working Group Held

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota requires each field office to host or take part in an annual Local Working Group (LWG) meeting. Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) also have the encouragement to take the local lead and chair these meetings. Meetings will be held across Minnesota this year to gather input and help set priorities for USDA conservation planning and resource concerns under the Farm Bill for the near term implementation of those programs.

The Yellow Medicine SWCD board of supervisors and staff held their Local Working Group meeting on February 28th with several conservation stakeholders present. Following the regular SWCD board meeting. Those interested gathered to identify priority natural resource concerns and to provide comments on the implementation of the conservation section of the federal farm bill. After about an hour of analysis, members determined that it was best to step away from the group and develop individual input and return it to be synthesized and reported to NRCS. The board will also entertain public comments to go along with the reported priorities if received by March 28’s board meeting. Contact the SWCD to submit those.

“Local Working Groups offer a seat at the table for interested individuals and groups to advise NRCS on how best to set priorities and focus locally on specific resource concerns,” said Danielle Waldschmidt, District Conservationist at the Clarkfield Field Office. “Members are diverse with an interest and focus on local agricultural and natural resource issues,” added Waldschmidt. Farmers representing a variety of crops and livestock raised within the local area, private landowners, representatives of agricultural and environmental organizations, and representatives of other agricultural and natural resource agencies are welcome and should be represented.

While the goal of the meeting was to set local conservation planning priorities, USDA conservation programs were discussed. USDA programs can help implement practices for the conservation of water quality, soil health, wildlife habitat, energy, and other natural resources.

NACD Meeting and Legislative Priorities

In early February 2019, Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Technical Director Tyler Knutson was welcomed by the warmth of San Antonio, TX by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) membership and national partners of the organization that gather to organize and communicate on the work and priorities of over three thousand SWCDs in the nation and territories. For Knutson, this trip was about networking and professional development. The networking and listening to staff and elected officials from places like Taos, New Mexico, a popular skiing destination to Allegheny Conservation District, home to metropolitan Pittsburgh, PA, provided a unique and invaluable experience to bring back to serve the people of Yellow Medicine SWCD. Through strategic enrollment in sessions, a wide array of skills, ideas, perspectives, and questions were brought back home as well. Lessons in social media, social marketing (there’s a difference, believe it or not), consumer psychology, agronomy, water quality and quantity trends, and the list could go on of things that were examined in depth. Something shared was how things go in Minnesota, a jealousy is always quickly formed outside of our state with conservation professionals as we discuss Minnesota’s Clean Water Funds. This program is supported by the 3/8 cent sales tax Minnesotan’s imposed on themselves during the worst economic times in recent history. There isn’t a similar program that allows stakeholders to voluntarily access funding to do the work of clean water anywhere else in the nation. A highlight that struck close to home was a tour of the facilities that take in water from the San Antonio River, pipe it 150’ deep for three miles through a 24’ wide tunnel to lessen flooding impacts on the downtown area and regulate the water level of the world famous river walk channel through the city. This system is a testament to the ingenuity and investment needed to combat flooding of infrastructure for decades regardless of the cause.

As of March 4, 2019, Knutson has also been named to the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) Legislative Committee. This statewide organization promotes SWCD priorities developed from the grassroots level and amplifies them in St. Paul. Knutson is excited to work with other members, top notch staff and a contracted firm’s staff to shine a light and navigate the legislative process for SWCDs. The priority receiving the most attention this year is addressing a long standing lack of stable, simple, and repetitive funding to implement state law’s mandates. SWCDs have expectations from farmers, ranchers, homeowners, corporations in downtown Minneapolis, the owners of apartment buildings, state agencies, elected officials, fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and all taxpayers in our areas and the state. Offices around the state have received supplemental temporary grants to expand capacity with no guarantee to continue outside of two years. SWCDs are the only level of government with a board elected by the voters every November election day, being a subdivision of state law, with statutory and contractual responsibilities, not to mention the moral and ethical requirements staff and supervisors on the board face every day, that do not have the authority and power to levy a tax for funding themselves. This year’s efforts, among other work, are to restore and maintain dedicated state funding to SWCDs to keep do their work and to change state law to give SWCDs an option and a public process to go through to levy property taxes or allocate project fees with stakeholders and taxpayers involved all along the way. Not all SWCDs need or will use this proposed authority because of adequate local and state funding combinations, but some can’t do the work they are required to do by law. As you, as a citizen, converse with Legislators on your issues, you shouldn’t have to beg them to fund SWCDs, but you can tell them of the effect your erosion remedy, cover crop incentive, educational programming, AgBMP financing, or other SWCD work has had on your livelihood.

Breaking for Lunch:

a discussion on soil health practices!

In late 2018, the Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) convened two groups of agricultural producers and professionals to discuss soil health practices. Whether soil health practices be defined by the individual as cover crops, no till or a switch away from moldboard plowing and disk ripping, stakeholders in this group were able to have a place free of sales pitches, gimmicks and negativity toward change to ask for perspective from those implementing cover crops and no till or those applying crop nutrients through strip till. Agronomists, crop farmers, and livestock producers were able to share perspectives of the toxicity of certain Ryes to following corn crops, managing a seeding of cover crops that didn’t come up in a cold fall drought and showed up the same time as planting season, and the surprise of the reduction of water needs for livestock grazing on certain cover crops. While the conservation community roots itself in the benefits to keeping bare soil covered, taking up nutrients from leeching to ground and tile water, there are other benefits. Regularly found, are also great agronomic and economic benefits realized to producers who have entered into cover crop systems that professionals and producers discussed in detail, unimpeded by government and industry shop talk. When it comes to no-till and strip-till type systems, wide ranging conversation was carried on about infrastructure, soil temperature, and crop residue management. While these are all challenges to systems making the transition to different soil management, there is a success story to balance out failure or challenging situation. The SWCD has seen this avenue for communication among those who are working on continuing a management evolution or starting one reduce uncertainty and risk for producers, including those who look to local, state, and federal resources for cover crops, nutrient and tillage management planning assistance and financial incentive. Be on the look-out for another event in eastern Yellow Medicine County on March 1 at lunchtime—location coming soon, and more throughout 2019.

MN CREP Continues

                In September 2017, the Minnesota Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (MN CREP) sign-up began taking applications for floodplain and wetland restorations, filter strips, and wellhead protection areas. Since then, more than twelve thousand acres have been enrolled in the 54 county area. In Yellow Medicine County, nearly 400 acres have been enrolled including nine easements of which are four filter strips totaling 59.09 acres, four non-floodplain wetlands totaling 319.57 acres, and one floodplain wetland of 17.9 acres.

 

  Marginally unproductive cropland is the focus of this program to provide permanent protection for one of Minnesota’s most important resources, our water. MN CREP is a partnership between the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM).  This is a voluntary program that allows landowners to enroll land into a permanent easement to protect Minnesota’s water resources as well as retain ownership and still control access to the land by the public.

Wetlands and floodplains are important areas that allow infiltration of water that recharge ground water aquifers and provide important habitat for Minnesota wildlife.  Floodplains and wetlands also store water on the surface, and reduce peak discharge in flowing water systems like those of drainage ditches and streams.  Reducing peak flows in these systems reduces bank erosion and sedimentation of stream beds, and is an incredibly high priority to improve water quality. Reduction of sedimentation can reduce the frequency of ditch cleaning that needs to be done to maintain drainage. If your cropland floods regularly or even occasionally, this is an excellent opportunity to receive fair compensation for setting your land aside.

These are benefits that MN CREP provide to you and our water. The RIM payment rates have been increased since last spring. They are currently ranging from $4,400- $8,000 per acre depending on township. This payment rate is comprised of an upfront payment and a temporary annual payment associated with CREP that you can learn more about by talking with staff at the SWCD. Enrollment also provides a reduction in taxable property value over the course of years of the easement. The key, the land remains your property. Enrollment in the easement simply changes the land use to exclude cropland and promote water quality friendly wildlife habitat.

Ag Water Quality Certification Sign Up Ongoing!

Becoming a certified farm shows the community that farmers are doing what they can to protect our water. This is a voluntary program for farmers and agricultural landowners to show what conservation practices they are implementing for protecting our water. The certification is valid for ten years. For that ten years, farmers/agricultural landowners obtain regulatory certainty of compliance with any new water quality rules or laws. Farmers seeking certification can get specially designated financial assistance to implement practices for promoting water quality from the USDA’s EQIP and CSP programs, or new programs that may arrive because of the new farm bill.

 The process to becoming a certified farm is fairly easy. If you are interested contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). You will have to fill out an application and that starts the process towards certification. Once the application is completed you will be contacted by a local certifying agent to go through the assessment process. Some crop advisors also do this locally. The assessment process is when the certifying agent will ask you for information regarding your farm such as soil tests reports, nutrient application, manure application, and pesticide application. The certifying agent will also conduct field visits to look for soil erosion or other potential impacts to water quality. If issues were to be found, they and action on them would need to be included in the certification agreement.

            In Yellow Medicine SWCD, we’ve had nine certifications and currently, there are twenty-two applications that are pursuing certification. There are incentive payments for completing an assessment and certification.

SWCD Supervisors Re-Elected

On November 6, 2018, among many local and state election results, two Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)

Supervisors were re-elected. In the 3rd district consisting of Friendship, Hazel Run, Normania, and Sandnes townships

as well as the cities of Hanley Falls, Hazel Run, and Clarkfield, MN residents voted Supervisor Hollis Weber to another

four-year term on the SWCD board. Weber has been on the board since 2012. The 4th District, including St. Leo and

Porter, MN along with the townships of Oshkosh, Omro, Tyro, Wergeland, Burton, and Swede Prairie opted to have Darwyn Bach represent them for another term through 2020. He has been a member of the board since 2014, and currently serves as Chairperson. SWCD Supervisors are the locally elected team of residents that govern the local unit of government much like a county, city, or school district. They hire staff, set policy, budgets, delegated authorities, and enter into legal agreements. The SWCD Board was established in 1950 in Yellow Medicine County. Over 3,000 conservation districts across the United States of America are locally controlled special governments that were born out of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and legislation thereafter. Most are still in existence today, and are generally tasked with coordinating and assisting with voluntary conservation implementation on private lands. For more information about Yellow Medicine SWCD supervisors, visit www.yellowmedicineswcd.org/board-of-supervisors or to find out who represents you in your SWCD visit www.maswcd.org . SWCD supervisors fall under the same election laws, reporting requirements, and public scrutiny as any other elected official in Minnesota. Representing the 1st District, elected first in 2016 with a term expiring in 2020, is Thomas Remmele. Delon Clarksean, also in his first term since 2016 until 2020, represents the western remainder of the SWCD, including Canby, MN. The most senior member of the board is Jerry Nelson represent the northeast section of the SWCD. He has represented District 2 since 2008, and will complete his third term in 2020. Both Bach and Weber will renew their oaths of office at a swearing in ceremony with the Honorable Judge Dwayne Knutsen on January 8th, 2019 at the Yellow Medicine County Government Center before the County Commissioner’s Meeting or at the following regular meeting of the SWCD Board to be announced in late January 2019.

2018 Outstanding Conservationist

Loran and Patricia Haas

The Yellow Medicine Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) conservationist of the year for 2018 are Loran and Patricia Haas. Loran and Patricia are very active in participating in the Conservation Reservation Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. They began with installing terraces 30 years ago and have continued implementing a host of other conservation practices.

            Loran and Patricia have a grain and haying operation near the buffalo ridge. Farming in this location has its challenges due to the change in elevation across a field. There are fields in this area that have an elevation change of 90 feet from one end to the other. To reduce soil erosion, they have installed practices such as water and sediment control basins, contour terraces, rotational no till, grassed waterways, and cover crops. They have been experimenting with cover crops for three years and have found this practice can also reduce weed and aphid populations. Filter strips had been installed on intermittent streams many years before the buffer law came along. They have taken marginal cropland that contains sensitive soils and converted it to grassland, creating habitat for pollinators and wildlife. They have also chosen to maintain an area of native prairie on their farm.

They have been working with their agronomist and precision agriculture specialist on their precision fertility program using grid sampling and using normalized yield data to insure that the fertilizer going on at the right rate, time, place, and source.

            We are proud to have Loran and Patricia as our Conservationist of the Year. They are always looking for ways to improve their farming operation in terms of its contributions to environmental health. They are model citizens, especially when it comes to conservation and agriculture. Loran and Patricia are making positive changes for future generations. As Yellow Medicine SWCD’s awardee, the Haas family was also nominated for the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ (MASWCD) Outstanding Conservationist Award. This honor also extends an invitation to the annual MASWCD convention.

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Partnering for Better Local Government

This article on Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District’s (SWCD) partnership efforts is the first of a two-part series explaining how the SWCD is improving local government and conservation implementation by partnering with other public and private entities.

Famed football coach Vince Lombardi told us, “Individual commitment to a group effort--that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” What he is telling us is that when we all work toward achieving something, we get things done. That is what the Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) does every day. Through many partnerships and joint, amplified, not duplicated, efforts, the SWCD and its partners thrive toward accomplishing the mission of providing technical, financial, and educational support to its residents related to conservation soil and water resources.

The most all-encompassing of these partnerships is that of Yellow Medicine County and the SWCD. The County and SWCD share the same political boundary, responsibilities of implementing Minnesota’s Wetland Conservation Act (WCA), Statute 103F.48 (The Buffer Law), parts of Minnesota’s Agricultural Best Management Practices (AgBMP) low-cost financing program, partnering on Information Technology (IT) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) use, development, and progress, and the efforts in Yellow Medicine County to prevent the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). Through delegation by the County, staff at the SWCD handle inquires and decisions on the prohibition of draining certain wetlands in Minnesota. The SWCD has taken the bull by the horns on Minnesota’s Buffer Law over the last couple of years, pairing affected landowners with technical assistance and financial programs to comply with the law, while the County handles enforcement. The SWCD handles financing available for failing septic systems that need to be fixed due to failure or local regulation through the AgBMP program. The SWCD and the IT department at the County, in 2019, will progress on making improvements in the application and maintenance of GIS mapping and data management. The SWCD receives top notch IT services and has expanded use of County servers and tools over the past several years. SWCD Technician, Brooke Buysse coordinates the implementation of State of Minnesota funding passed through the County to the SWCD. Her work includes public education, promotional product development and distribution, and partnering with neighboring Lac qui Parle SWCD in enhancing efforts in both areas. The SWCD also receives about a third of its annual revenue from Yellow Medicine County for operations along with Human Resources and a network of support from department heads and the administration department.

A new partnership of the last few years is that of the One Watershed One Plan (1W1P) effort in Minnesota. The Yellow Medicine River 1W1P is a partnership of 9 local units of government that all have state requirements to develop local water management plans. The 1W1P takes that requirement off of political boundaries and address the concerns of stakeholders on a watershed scale. Hundreds of thousands of funding is available to landowners in priority areas with priority practices.

The Cities of Canby, Porter, St. Leo, Clarkfield, Granite Falls, Wood Lake, Hanley Falls and Echo have all resolved to delegate responsibilities of local government administration of the Wetland Conservation Act to the Yellow Medicine SWCD. This provides expert local knowledge and access to a statewide network of professionals that deal with wetland regulation on the part of state law. This is similar to the partnership between the SWCD and Yellow Medicine County for areas outside of city limits. The goal of the SWCD is to provide those who have the potential to impact a wetland to be aware of that fact, and to be well informed of what consequences or alternatives there are to draining wetlands. The SWCD even reviews building permits in Canby and other communities to avoid issues.

Another example of the SWCD working with a community, is that shown by the upcoming involvement in Phase III of the improvement project at Memorial Park in Granite Falls, MN. SWCD staff have been following progress of improvements and restorations at the park. As 2019 approaches, staff will begin to formulate where potential Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Prevention, interpretive or educational items may be appropriate, along with options for further ecological restoration and water quality/quantity conservation measures.

In 2018, the SWCD rapidly expanded its public outreach programming. Specifically, staff began producing news releases for twice-monthly publishing in The Canby News and the Granite Falls-Clarkfield Advocate Tribune. A few articles have been included in Tri-County News and expanded on in the Marshall Independent when deemed regionally significant. www.yellowmedicineswcd.org/news also has an updated register of these stories. The goal is to make sure important information gets to those that it affects. Facebook has also proven to be a useful resource in getting messages on programs out. You can like and follow the SWCD on Facebook as “Yellow Medicine SWCD” in the search bar. Our website also shows the most recent posts that have occurred.

Perhaps the most fiscally strong and valuable partnership for the SWCD is that of itself and the State of Minnesota. The Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) is a governor appointed board that acts as an intermediary for funding to make its way to SWCDs and other local units of government. Programs like the “state cost share fund”, “the buffer law”, “WCA”, and a host of others make their way to SWCD by way of BWSR. The SWCD also does some work with the Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) related to habitat and water regulation, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) related to watershed planning, and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) dealing with drinking water well boring and sealing. Many thousands of dollars in grant funds and allocations from these agencies ensure we can provide our services. In 2017, about half of SWCD revenue was from state funding sources.

Over the last few months, SWCD staff have taken some time out to keep providers of the ag community up to speed on our efforts. Through e-mail, the SWCD reaches out to crop consultants, financial institutions, insurance providers, cooperatives and other retailers. The idea has been to keep those who are paid to keep producers informed, sell products and provide services updated on what we are working on and have available. This year into next year, staff will be continuing to partner and pursue competitive funding to expand and foster the cooperation between local government and private partners. Further information will be shared with the public on exciting implementation of these activities.

In 2017 and 2018, the SWCD was able to share resources with the Yellow Medicine River Watershed District (YMRWD) and Lincoln SWCD by utilizing Yellow Medicine SWCD staff to provide services to those organizations. When Water Resources Technician Brooke Buysse was brought on board, the intent was for her to work out of the YMRWD’s Minneota, MN office one day per week. Through this period, more and less time was utilized for this purpose and Brooke’s added capacity was found to be needed in the form of a more regular watershed district staff person. While Brooke will continue to work as needed at the WD, the WD has hired former SWCD part-timer Michael Luke who will work out of Minneota at least until he is done studying at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, MN. On July 2, 2018, Brayden Anderson, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) Technician joined the SWCD in Clarkfield, MN. He is also dedicated in part to Lincoln SWCD out of Ivanhoe, MN. Into 2019, Brayden will be transitioning to another position in the Yellow Medicine SWCD. The SWCDs in partnership will monitor funding sources to understand if there is value and stability in continuing to utilize a shared position.

Over the course of the last half-decade and earlier, the SWCD has received funding to promote and implement federal farm bill programs and other programs including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Walk In Access public hunting allowance (WIA), Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE), Reinvest In Minnsota (RIM) Easements, and many more. This funding requires some degree of local match. During various ebbs and flows of SWCD funds, it was necessary to reach outside of the SWCD coffers to local non-profit partners. This led to seeking a total of 5-10% of the grant amount from a combination of donations from the Yellow Medicine County Pheasants Forever Chapter and the East Medicine PF. This partnership also led to The YMC PF Chapter, based in Canby, to share local funding with CRP contract participants to soup up seed mixes to add additional beneficial wildflowers to seed mixes. About 18 years ago, the Upper Minnesota Valley National Wild Turkey Federation sought national funding to supply the SWCD with a tree planter to provide additional wild turkey habitat. This machine is still in use and establishing habitat today.

The most critical partnership is that of which is with YOU, our stakeholder. Your interest in this article gives you ownership of the SWCD and its efforts. We are the local government unit tasked with providing technical, financial and educational support to our residents. We work with landowners, farmers, ranchers, city folk, country folk, homeowners, business owners… you get it, everyone.

Buffer Law Updates November 2018

       The AgBMP Loan Program is a water quality program that provides low interest loans to farmers, rural landowners and agriculture supply businesses. The purpose is to encourage agricultural Best Management Practices that prevent or reduce runoff from feedlots, farm fields and other pollution problems.

       The AgBMP loan program funds activities or practices that help to improve water quality. If a project manages or reduces the inflow of agricultural waste into surface and groundwater systems, it could qualify for the AgBMP Loan Program.  If you are planning a structural project that will help reduce soil erosion, which adversely effects water quality, it could qualify for the AgBMP Loan Program. Looking to purchase tillage equipment to help manage erosion?   It could qualify for the AgBMP Loan Program. 

       AND, if you need to install or upgrade a septic system, it could qualify for the AgBMP Program.  County residents also have the option of choosing Yellow Medicine County as their local lender when borrowing AgBMP funds for septic projects or qualifying well projects.  In this case, the payments can be assessed to the resident’s tax statement.

To seek approval for an AgBMP Loan:

  • A borrower reaches out to their local county government contact to propose a project or purchase that can help maintain or improve water quality. If that project or purchase meets state and county eligibility requirements the county may approve the project or purchase.   NOTE: application approval must be obtained prior to purchase or construction of project.

  • The borrower meets with their local lender to verify their credit for a loan and to see if the lender is willing to work with the AgBMP loan program.

  • Purchase or complete the project or practice.

   Once all three of the above steps are complete the borrower then will need to take their approved AgBMP application form and any related project receipts, invoices or equipment purchase orders to their local lender to process the loan.

 

       Residents can reach out the Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District or your ag lender to get more information on the AgBMP Loan Program.  You can also go to  MN DEPT of AG website at www.mda.state.mn.us.  On the funding tab, select Loans, then AgBMP Loans.  You’ll find more information on the program, examples of eligible projects, local lender information, and loan contact information for other counties.

3 % Loans available for water quality

Intake Removal and Drainage Management Slow Flows, Save Water, Support Yield

Tile drainage is nearly a universally applicable investment made into cropland in our area. While the benefits of tile drainage are improved traffic-ability and increased crop yields from the removal of excess water, open inlets or intakes can convey not only corn stalks, rodents and other obstructions into your drainage system, but also can deliver sediment and phosphorus to stream systems which have a detrimental impact on water quality. Some intakes are needed to act as somewhat of a relief valve for tile flow or to act as an outlet for a conservation practice. Intakes that are necessary for operation should be utilizing a “riser” type inlet to meter water flow and prevent debris from entering the system. While many landowners and producers have seen the benefit of removing the open inlets that are malfunctioning, accidentally buried or not needed, many folks who may be even have thought about it have not. The SWCD has funding available to you that can be made available within a month of a request to assist in the cost of removing these intakes. Many type of intakes exist some utilize rock, geotextile, pipe or just perforated plastic tile. Not only does it block the path of sediment, debris and potential lost nutrients, but it slows the velocity of water making its way to ditches and streams which aids in the reduction of streambank erosion, a known source of sediment in the Minnesota River.

 

Tile systems are also known to deliver Nitrates into surface waters. One strategy that can be used to reduce nitrates in tile drainage water is drainage water management. With drainage water management, water level control structures are included as a part of the tile drainage system. These structures are used to manipulate water levels at different times during the year. The greatest nitrate removal benefits occur when water levels are maintained in the biologically active zone during the growing season where nitrates can be converted to nitrogen gas by denitrifying bacteria or taken up by a crop when most readily available. A properly managed system can also increase crop yields by conserving water in the soil profile for crops to utilize. Like the removal of open inlets, this practice retains water in the soil profile for a longer period of time.

 

When is drainage water management a good fit for a new or an existing tile drainage system? Generally, drainage water management is unfeasible on land slopes greater than about one percent. It may be possible to retrofit existing tile installations with water level control structures depending on how the tile layout fits with the field topography. Tile systems utilizing drainage water management do not require closer tile spacing, but tile layout should be aligned with the field’s contours as much as possible in order to provide the most complete coverage and consistent water levels across the field. State and Federal funds are available for assistance in planning and installing these type of systems. Retrofits can also be added in some situations to implement subsurface irrigation in feasible locations.

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