SWCD NEWS: Farmers, SWCD work to improve waters
November 15, 2019
When it comes to soil health and water quality, farmers have always been some of the most conscientious and concerned people. This is due to their deep, hands-on connections with soil and water and nature.
Farmers physically feel their soil and can tell if it is too wet or too dry for tilling, planting, harvesting. They test their soil to make sure it has the necessary minerals in order to produce good quality crops to sell and eat. They regularly check their water to ensure its safety for the life and health of their families and the animals they raise. And they know that their land practices, the way they farm, can greatly affect the health of the soil and the quality of the water not only on their land, but also on surrounding land, rivers and lakes.
During the drought and Dust Bowl of the 1930s, it was because of farmers, their concern, and their farming practices, that the U.S. Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act. This led to state governments creating Soil and Water Conservation Districts to teach and encourage farmers and landowners how to develop land practices that would conserve and more wisely use soil and water resources for the benefit of everyone.
Now, almost 90 years later, great strides have been made in recognizing and improving soil health and water quality, due partially to the partnerships developed between the farmers, government agencies, and the SWCDs. There is still much room for improvement, and farmers are still an important part of the research and work towards these goals.
Leading the way to improvements in land practices and water quality is the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, a program through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. This voluntary program gives farmers and agricultural landowners the opportunity, according to the state website, to "take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect our water. Those who implement and maintain approved farm management practices will be certified and in turn obtain regulatory certainty for a period of ten years."
Ryan Clark, Ag Water Quality Certification Specialist with Carlton SWCD, reports that there are 15 farms in Carlton County that have completed Ag Water Quality Certification. In addition, there are five farms working towards certification by implementing a variety of projects, several of which are partially funded by grants through the state program.
One of those farms working towards certification lies just west of Moose Lake and is owned by Russ and Renee Peterson.
In early 2019, the Petersons contacted the Carlton SWCD seeking certification for water quality and to discover ways to further improve their land. They discovered that they could receive additional assistance to improve the conditions on their farm, especially during the winter and mud seasons when several head of cattle have to be kept in pens adjacent to the old dairy barn. During these seasons, significant amounts of rain water was flowing down the barn and shed roofs, through these pens, and into the stream which runs nearby. According to the Petersons, conditions have been really bad during the last few years, as it has been "so wet, more than what we recall as normal, and with lots of mud!"
With financial help from the state grant and funds through the Carlton SWCD's Cost-Share program, experts worked with the Petersons to help lessen the problems and further protect water quality.
First, they designed and installed "roof runoff structures," which, according to Clark, "involved digging a trench and burying perforated drain tile under rock to collect and carry clean rainwater from the barn roofs around or under the cow yard rather than through the manure and into the stream." This project, which was completed several weeks ago in mid-September, has already improved the mud situation and has removed some of the polluted runoff to the stream.
Second, a heavy use area protection practice was designed and installed in early October for a hay bale storage area. "This entailed building a gravel pad to provide adequate drainage and a stable surface for storing and moving hay bales for winter feeding. This area previously contributed some sediment runoff to the same stream from the bare soil conditions and tire rutting," shared Clark. "Installing this gravel and recycled asphalt pad will prevent further soil degradation and runoff."
Future plans for the Petersons include a new ag waste storage facility so they can "abandon their pens near the stream for a concrete slab for feeding cattle and storing manure under a roof in a more appropriate location," according to Clark. "This will allow them to store manure more effectively and further prevent rain water from carrying bacteria and nutrients to the stream and ultimately to the Kettle River."
Kim Samuelson is the elected supervisor for Carlton SWCD's District 4. For more information about the ways the SWCD and MAWQCP can help farmers, contact Ryan or Alyssa at the SWCD at 218-384-3891. You can also check out SWCD project work and information on Facebook or on their website at http://www.carltonswcd.org.