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2018 Annual Report

2018 Mower SWCD Board of Supervisors

Mower SWCD’s Justin Hanson (lower left) joins in August 2018 members of the Cedar River Watershed Partnership from Land’O Lakes; Hormel Foods; CFW Cooperative; MN Dept. of Agriculture; and Environmental Initiative at a field day..

Partnering for progress

2018 Mower SWCD staff

Justin Hanson

Jeanne Crump

Cody Fox

James Fett


Admin. Assistant

Project Manager

Watershed Tech

Steve Lawler

Paul Hunter

Tim Ruzek

Larry Callahan

Resource Specialist

Watershed Conservationist

Water Plan & Outreach Coordinator

District Tech

Mower SWCD

1408 21st Ave. N.W., Austin, MN, 55912

By Justin Hanson, Mower SWCD district manager Partnerships always have been at the heart of Mower SWCD’s work since our start in the 1950s. In 2018, though, Mower SWCD took partnerships to a much higher level than ever before thanks to several new initiatives. We helped launch the Cedar River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) in early 2018 to better help farmers while also improving water quality. It has been an honor to work closely with new partners from Hormel Foods; Land’O Lakes; CFS Cooperative; Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture; and Environmental Initiative to develop this new collaboration. This summer, our new partnership with Riverland Community College only continued to grow stronger as Mower SWCD launched its three-year soil health research project, with support from the college through the use of its soils lab. Our partner farmers also continued to grow in 2018 thanks to a couple major initiatives — cover covers/soil health and our Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) focused on upland stormwater storage. For cover crops and soil health, we remain very grateful for our ongoing partnership with area farmer Tom Cotter to work together on Cover Crops 101 classes and other outreach events to raise awareness of soil-health practices. Under CIP, we would have had no projects to report in 2018 if not for our partnering landowners. We have been fortunate to work with a great group of landowners and farmers on our initial CIP projects to reduce flooding and improve water quality. Partners are helping us make progress, and we expect those relationships to grow more in 2019.

507-434-2603, ext. 5

Mower SWCD’s website underwent a complete revamping in 2018 to offer better online information and resources to the public. More photos, updated content and a new format are among the features of the website, which uses the same web address (www.mowerswcd.org). Online content also is offered by Mower SWCD on its Facebook page (see image on right) as well as on Twitter and a channel of videos on YouTube.

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Looking Back - 2018 Best Management Practices Leveraged funds in 2018

Cover crops - 13 projects (3,217 acres of cover crops)

Grass waterways - 5 projects (approximately 10.6 acres)

Federal funding $2 million (CRP, EQIP, CSP) State funding


Field structures - 11 projects Windbreaks - 6 projects

CRP - 382 acres enrolled

State Ag BMP loans $270,000 (5 contracts) TOTAL: $3.04 million

Permanent conservation program gaining interest in Mower Mower County landowners gained more incentive in 2018 to enroll farmland into permanent conservation through MN CREP as the state increased payment rates. Average payment rates for MN CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) in Mower County now have increased from $6,500 per acre to more than $7,500 per acre, with the

potential for an even higher payment for a landowner. In late 2018, Mower SWCD finalized its first MN CREP easement, involving 75 acres in Red Rock Township with plans for a 2019 restoration. “If you own marginal farmland or land that floods frequently, CREP is a great solution,” Mower SWCD watershed technician James Fett said.

MN CREP officially opened in 2017 as a voluntary statefederal program for landowners seeking to protect their environmentally sensitive cropland. It is designed to improve water quality and habitat conservation. Mower County is one of 54 counties in southern and western Minnesota selected for this round of CREP.

SWCD, groups partner to buy no-till drill Local conservation groups in 2018 helped get more prairie, wildflowers and vegetative buffers planted in Mower County thanks to their financial support. Mower SWCD purchased a no-tillage drill in early 2018 to provide a convenient and feasible option for landowners in the county to rent once the spring planting season began as part of an effort to support clean water and habitat development. Groups that donated money toward the drill’s purchase included Friends of the Jay C. Hormel Nature; Pheasants Forever of Mower County; Audubon Austin Chapter; and the Austin chapter of the Izaak Walton League. Mower SWCD also gave funding. “This drill provides local landowners with

a low-cost option to plant prairie, cover crops, pasture and more,” said Justin Hanson, Mower SWCD district manager. “Without the groups’ support, we couldn’t have bought this much-needed equipment.” Landowners rented the drill for planting vegetative buffer strips along public waterways; Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); and wildflower plantings. Due to 2018’s late spring, Mower SWCD became busy with delivering the drill during planting season and was not able to get it to everyone in time. A new drill also led to increased landowner interest. No-till aims to leave soil undisturbed as much as possible during the entire by avoiding any primary or secondary tillage practic-

Mower SWCD’s no-till drill purchased in early 2018.

es, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Most no-till planters have residue managers, finger coulters and doubledisk openers that move some residue from the row and improve seed-to-soil contact.

Several grass waterways converge near a sediment-control drop structure in part of the Frank Family Farms’ cropland in Dexter Township in the Rose Creek headwaters area.

Moe family honored as 2018 Mower County conservationists A conservation-minded perspective has guided Rod Moe in farming for years no matter whether it involved his own land or acres rented for growing corn and soybeans in Mower County’s Waltham Township. Moe, who farms about 800 acres, has made changes to his farm that stand differently than other area farms and the way his late father, Richard, approached farming. “Rod is a bit of a different cooperator in that he has quietly adopted conservation practices and transformed his farms into a sustainable model for what he thinks is the right thing to do,” Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson said. For these efforts, the Rod Moe Family was the 2018 Conservationist of the Year for

Mower County as chosen by Mower SWCD’s Board of Supervisors. Moe along with his wife, Colleen, and daughter, Rachel – who all help with farm work in spring and fall – were honored by Mower SWCD at the Mower County Fair’s opening night. The Moes were honored with other SWCD honorees in December at the 82nd annual convention of the Minnesota Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts. Moe started farming with his father in 1985 – the same year he graduated from high school. His family built a house and started life on the farm in 1987. His father played a big role in Moe’s life and career as a mentor although he doesn’t believe his dad would think much about the innovative conserva-

Rod Moe with his daughter, Rachel, and wife, Colleen, at their Waltham Township farm.

tion practices he uses today. Especially since 2011, Moe has been involved significantly with conservation programs and practices, including nutrient-management planning; cov-

er crops; strip tillage; and native grass buffers. “I like the trial-and-error part of working with the land,” Rod Moe said. “Figuring out other ways to make things work.”

Troms honored for lifetime of conservation benefiting wildlife

Mower County chosen for 2019 state pheasant hunt Austin was chosen in fall 2018 to host the 2019 Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener. At the opener last October in Luverne, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr announced Austin as the host community in 2019 for the ninth annual event. A local group led by Discover Austin collaborated on the application and is working now on planning for the opener along with Explore Minnesota and DNR staff. Mower SWCD’s main roles are helping with outreach and connecting with landowners for private hunting acres. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in a statement thanked the people of Austin for “graciously offering” to host the hunt Oct. 11-12. While Dayton did not seek re-election, his successor, Gov. Tim Walz, plans to continue the event. “The Pheasant Opener has become a special Minnesota tradition, made possible by our tremendous host communities,” Dayton stated. Austin was selected through an

application process that considered available hunting land, event facilities, travel recreation opportunities and community support. “We are thrilled to be selected as the host community,” said Sandy Forstner, Austin event chairperson. “We’ve assembled a great team of organizations that are working collaboratively to prepare for this event that will showcase the great habitat, good pheasant hunting and many other attractions Austin can offer.” Dayton started the opener in 2011 to feature the many hunting, recreational and travel opportunities that host communities have to offer visitors. Previous host communities have been Montevideo (2011 and 2016), Marshall (2012 and 2017), Madelia (2013), Worthington (2014), Mankato (2015) and

Southgate Elementary students from Austin paddle the Cedar River State Water Trail in May during Canoemobile programming at Ramsey Dam.

More than 350 people, mostly Mower County youth, paddled the Cedar River State Water Trail in May 2018 for the Canoemobile program’s first stint here. Mower SWCD organized four school days of Canoemobile led by the Minneapolis nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry. State funds given annually to Mower County for aquatic invasive species outreach and work covered most of the Canoemobile program, which discussed AIS prevention during water – and land-based segments. Canoemobile staged its fleet of six 10-person canoes at the Ramsey Dam on Austin’s northern edge. Once equipped with life jackets

and given safety training, groups paddled with one Wilderness Inquiry “boat captain” steering from the back up the Cedar River into Ramsey Mill Pond and back. Mower SWCD and Wilderness Inquiry led two landbased stations at the dam. All public and private schools based in Mower County were invited. A community day “open house” format was offered on Saturday, May 19, at Ramsey Dam for the public.

Eastern Mower part of Root River 1W1P focus areas After several years in the works, the Root River area’s watershed-based plan in southeastern Minnesota moved ahead in 2018 with a two-year budget and project list. Root River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P), which includes Mower SWCD, started its first work plan after being one of five 1W1P pilot projects launched in 2014 by the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources. BWSR committed $851,301 for a 20182019 Root River 1W1P

budget and work plan addressing groundwater; surface water; social capacity; and coordination/ administration. Mower County’s headwaters area of the Root River’s middle and south branches is a targeted project area. Mower SWCD has $118,128 to for stream-stability work that identifies crucial source areas. It also will help build five water-and -sediment control basins and seven grass waterways totaling about 11,000 feet long.

Progress made on initiative to build When flood-inducing rains hit Mower County, the Cedar River Watershed’s upland areas of Dobbins Creek now have more ability to capture and slowly release large amounts of stormwater. Improved water quality and reduced flooding, along with more wildlife habitat, are the benefits of five projects completed in late 2018 by the Cedar River Watershed District (run by Mower SWCD staff) in upland areas of the Dobbins Creek subwatershed. Dobbins drains into Austin’s Jay C. Hormel Nature Center and East Side Lake before flowing to the Cedar River. To date, CRWD now has completed nine of 25 projects planned under its nearly $8.4 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) focused on improving water quality and reducing floods. CIP’s overall goal is to reduce flooding by 8 percent at the Cedar-Dobbins confluence in southeast Austin. Under the 2018 work, CRWD hired contractors to build water-detention, earthen berms to control and treat stormwater

“By slowing stormwater, these CIP structures keep a lot of soil and excess nutrients from entering our streams while reducing flood damage to buildings, roads, bridges and farm fields.” Cody Fox

CRWD project manager flowing off more than 1,000 acres of mostly farmland in the nearly 25,000-acre Dobbins subwatershed. CRWD has focused in recent years on Dobbins due the watershed being prone to flash floods. CIP projects are funded by a $3.2 million grant from The Hormel Foundation with nearly $4 million thus far in funding from state grants and state bonding. Up to $1 million from a CRWD local project levy is available, if needed. In 2019, CRWD plans to build up to six more CIP projects in the Dobbins water-

shed, treating another 1,000 acres. CIP focuses on upland water storage as it decreases the amount and speed of stormwater flow, which reduces the potential for significant downstream streambank erosion. “By slowing stormwater, these CIP structures keep a lot of soil and excess nutrients from entering our streams while reducing flood damage to buildings, roads, bridges and farm fields,” CRWD project manager Cody Fox said. Dobbins 1 – one of the largest CIP projects planned – was finished in 2018 after

Two graphs show high stormwater flows at Dobbins 1 before and after construction. The outlet shown during mid-construction in September below both Dobbins 1 berms.

upland stormwater storage on fields several years of preliminary work with numerous landowners and complex designs. Treating more than 810 acres, Dobbins 1 consists of two, large berms in the upper areas of Dobbins Creek’s north branch (Red Rock and Dexter townships). At capacity, Dobbins 1’s storage will cover more land (more than 50 acres) with stormwater than Austin’s 40-acre East Side Lake – a reservoir created by a dam on Dobbins Creek. “It feels great to have Dobbins 1 completed and ready to help with issues in our watershed,” Fox said. “Lots of work went into it, and we were fortunate to work with great landowners.” At maximum capacity, Dobbins 1 should temporarily hold about 250 acre-feet of stormwater (81.5 million gallons), with some spots being more than 15 feet deep. One acre-foot is like covering a football field with one foot of water. At capacity storage, Mower SWCD’s Cody Fox, project manager for CRWD, checks on construction progress at Dobbins 1 in fall 2018. Dobbins 1 will release stormwater over two days rather than the typical eight to 12 hours at the site. Under the project, 80 acres of farmland also were enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), keeping the land from being farmed for a decade. With rainfall amounts that typically produce major flooding, Dobbins 1 will reduce peak stormwater flows by more than 80 percent at its site. The berms are expected to keep an estimated 134 tons of sediment out of Dobbins Creek along with 218 pounds of phosphorus equal to more than 65,000 pounds of algae. Sediment is loose particles of sand, clay, silt and other substances mostly from eroding soils on land or streambanks. It makes streams cloudy, which is harmful to fish and plant life, and fills in lakes and streams. Yellow dots show the Dobbins 1 berms’ locations. Blue outlines the Dobbins watershed. Austin is in the lower left. Most sediment is contaminated by pollutants, particularly phosphorus, which, in causing erosion, including by skirting • Project #8 – Just north of Interstate 90, water outside of a grass waterway. excessive levels often from pastures and CRWD built a grass waterway and cropland, can cause water pollution by proearthen berm to minimize on-site gully moting significant algae growth. erosion and reduce the risk of heavy • Project #15 – Crews built an earthen Water quality can be harmed further rain overtopping Mower County Road berm west of Dexter along fence lines when bacteria consume dead algae and 20 directly downstream. to minimize obstructions in the farm use up dissolved oxygen, suffocating fish field and reduce the amount of and other aquatic life. • Project #13 – This project built an cropland taken out of production. Three other projects built by CRWD in earthen berm west of Dexter that will 2018 also are in the Dobbins headwaters enhance the lifespan of a downstream, To view an interactive story map on areas of Dexter Township. Each of those grass waterway while directing rain projects will reduce on-site, peak stormwater into it. Prior to the work, heavy CRWD’s CIP initiative: www.cedarriverwd.org/capitalwater flows by 90 percent or more. Those rains often led to water cutting improvement-plan/ CIP projects included: through several areas of a fence line,

University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin-River Falls students work in a Mower County field in the first year of Mower SWCD’s three-year soil health research project.

Mower SWCD soil scientist Steve Lawler (right) speaks in June at Riverland Community College’s new soil lab in Austin.

Students work in Riverland’s new soils lab.

Riverland Ag Center’s combine simulator is shown at the start of a Mower SWCD Soil Health Field Day in November.

Mower SWCD continued its extensive efforts to provide outreach and educational opportunities on cover crops and soil health throughout 2018. In early 2018, Mower SWCD partnered with 2017 Cover Crop Champion farmer Tom Cotter, of Austin Township, and TJ Kartes, of the Saddle Butte seed company in Blooming Prairie, to offer free Cover Crops 101 classes to the public in the area. In March, Mower SWCD teamed up with the nonprofit Land Stewardship Project and Riverland Community College to host soil-health speaker, Ray Archuleta, who is known nationally as “The Soil Guy.” Archuleta presented to more than 100 people at Riverland’s west campus in Austin during a workshop on cover crops and soil health. Mower SWCD soil scientist Steve Lawler assisted by running a rainfall simulator on different types of land management practices. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program recently funded a nationwide survey on cover crops with farmers, who reported increased crops yields and improved control of herbicide-resistant weeds. Acreage planted in cover crops now has nearly doubled in the past five years nationally. In November, Mower SWCD organized a Cover Crop & Soil Health Field Day tour to various sites in Mower County. Late planting caused the spring field day to be rescheduled to fall. Nine farm sites in Mower County were featured during the fall tour that provided free busing and lunch for partici-

pants. The Nov. 7 tour highlighted cover crops and other soilhealth practices, starting and ending at Riverland Community College’s new Center for Agriculture & Food Science Technology in Austin. Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services’ Operation Round-Up program provided a grant to cover busing costs. Other sponsors included Cedar River Watershed District; Northern Country Co-op; and Saddle Butte seed company. The tour included field walkovers and some fields viewed while driving by. Some of the soil-health practices showcased included cover crops planted after sweet corn harvest; cover inter-seeding into corn and soybeans; multispecies cover crop mix to be winter grazed by beef cattle; fouryear strip till corn/soybean rotation with a multispecies cover crop mix. “This was a great opportunity for people of all backgrounds to get more familiar with cover crops and other soil-health practices,” said Steve Lawler, Mower SWCD’s resource specialist and soil scientist. “Just during 2018, we saw more producers incorporating cover crops and reduced tillage in our area.” The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program says cover crops offer economic and ecological benefits: reduce fertilizer costs; improve crop yields by enhancing soil health; reduce the need for using herbicides and pesticides; prevent soil erosion; conserve soil moisture; protect water quality; and help to safeguard personal health.

Mower SWCD’s Steve Lawler (left) and Austin-area farmer Tom Cotter speak to a crew about cover crops in summer 2018 for a video created by the state SWCD association.

Terry Hamilton, who uses cover crops in his farm’s production of corn and soybeans, speaks to Field Day participants in November at his farm south of Elkton.

A college student works with Mower SWCD soil scientist Steve Lawler in summer 2018 at a field near Lansing as part of the district’s ongoing soil-health research efforts.

Tom Cotter, a farmer, and TJ Kartes, of the Saddle Butte company, talk cover crops on Tom Finnegan’s field east of Austin during Mower SWCD’s field tour in November.

Connecting, educating on Mower County’s natural resources

A group walks on part of Justin Krell’s fields in August near Blooming Prairie as part of a first-time field day organized by the public-private Cedar River Watershed Partnership (CRWP).

Public-private partnership takes off in Cedar watershed Water quality and farming operations in the Cedar River watershed are mutually benefitting from the efforts of a new publicprivate partnership involving Mower SWCD. In January 2018, members of the Cedar River Watershed Partnership unveiled their collaboration during an event at the Hormel Foods Corp.’s sales cabin in Austin for a group of local agricultural producers who work with CFS Cooperative, an ag retailer. Called a “first-of-its-kind,” CRWP aims to improve water quality and the watershed’s water-resource challenges, such as flooding and excess soil in streams. CRWP includes Mower SWCD; Hormel Foods; Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN; CFS Cooperative; Minnesota Department of Agriculture; and Environmental Initiative, a nonprofit. Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson, who leads the Cedar River Watershed District, said he hopes CRWP will help provide a better bottom line for farmers and improve water quality. “This partnership shifts the traditional service model for government and ag retail to instead empower landowners and producers with tools, information, technical assistance and financial resources to make the best decisions on their land.” Through the partnership’s work, farmers in the Cedar River watershed – which covers parts of Dodge, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties – can work with CFS Cooperative, Land O’Lakes

Justin Krell, who farms in the Cedar River Watershed, receives at a CRWP event in January 2018 in Austin his Ag Certainty signage from Matthew Wohlmann, deputy commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program .

SUSTAIN and Mower SWCD to help implement precision agricultural practices that address water-quality issues. Farmers, in turn, can voluntarily get certified in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Three farmers who operate in the Cedar River Watershed were honored being MAWQCP certified at the January event.

Field to Stream partnership experiences wet season of sampling Staff working under the Root River Field to Stream Partnership had an exceptional year in 2018 with sampling stormwater runoff. Led by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Field to Stream — which involves Mower SWCD monitoring three stations north of LeRoy in the Root River’s headwaters — usually averages about 23 runoff events per year at its field sites. In 2018, Field to Stream had more than 60 runoff events, said Kevin Kuehner, who leads the MDA program. Staff expected to complete a summary of those events by spring 2019. Mower SWCD in recent years has worked with landowners in eastern Mower County to implement field structures to address water and soil issues through initiatives, including Field to Stream. Under Field to Stream, Mower SWCD has assisted with watermonitoring stations and helped build water-and-sediment control basins and grass waterways. Started in 2009, Field to Stream uses innovative equipment and technology to monitor sediment and nutrient runoff from farm fields and to study streams receiving that stormwater.

Mower SWCD’s James Fett, watershed technician, and Larry Callahan, district technician, work on one of the sampling sites in eastern Mower County under the Field to Stream Partnership led by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in Mower and Fillmore counties in the Root River Watershed.

Mower-based education GreenCorps helps with SWCD outreach program awarded state honor Minnesota Mower SWCD was awarded a GreenCorps member in fall 2018 for an 11-month term assisting with outreach and community readiness. Jacob Geller, a University of Minnesota-Duluth graduate, is serving June 16. Mower SWCD is leading the as the GreenCorps member for local effort to host the exhibit and Mower SWCD. coordinate related events. In his role, Geller is helping Geller Mower SWCD with the We Are Water MN statewide traveling exhibit, which will be at Austin’s Jay C. Horwater festival. mel Nature Center from April 27-

SWCD awards science fair projects Mower SWCD’s Justin Hanson with Project E3 team leader Arik Andersen.

Mower SWCD awarded its Outstanding Natural Resources Science Project honors for Austin Public Schools’ 2018 science fair — Kaelyn Riedel (left) for 5th-6th grades; Lukas Tapp (right) for 3rd-4th grades. Mower SWCD water plan and outreach coordinator Tim Ruzek served as the judge.

Mower Soil & Water Conservation District 1408 21st Ave. NW Austin, MN 55912 507-434-2603 www.mowerswcd.org

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2018 Mower SWCD annual report  

2018 Mower SWCD annual report  

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