2019 Annual Report for Mower SWCD

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2019 Mower SWCD Board of Supervisors

Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson and farmer Wayne DeWall in September 2019 at DeWall’s farm, south of Grand Meadow. DeWall works with Mower SWCD and the MN Dept. of Ag on monitoring field runoff for water quality.

Farmers, SWCD keep partnering in 2019 2019 Mower SWCD staff

Mower SWCD staff (left-right) Paul Hunter, Tim Ruzek, James Fett, Steve Lawler, Jeanne Crump, Larry Callahan, Justin Hanson and Cody Fox. Not pictured: Alex Block.

Sign up for Mower SWCD’s monthly e-newsletter Conserve Mower at: tim@mowerdistrict.org

Mower SWCD continues support of ag education in county

Mower SWCD

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

507-434-2603, ext. 5


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Looking Back - 2019 Best Management Practices Conservation Reserve Program 425 acres enrolled

Cover crops 3 projects (76 acres)

Windbreaks 4 projects

Grass waterways 9 projects (12 acres)

Field structures 6 projects

SWCD helps host governor’s pheasant opener Mower County and the Austin community for the first time hosted Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in October 2019. Mower SWCD helped plan for and coordinate the event, especially in working with area landowners to make more than 4,000 acres of private land available for the 9th annual hunt. Gov. Tim Walz harvested a pheasant while hunting Oct. 12 the land around the Mower SWCD-CRWD Dobbins 1 upstream berm for stormwater storage, west of Dexter. It was Walz’ first pheasant opener as governor although he took part in past openers as an invited guest. Overall, 170 hunters joined Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in fields around Austin. Hunters took 44 roosters despite wet, cold conditions and delayed field harvests. More than 450 people attended the community banquet Oct. 11 at Austin’s Holiday Inn Conference Center. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen also attended the festivities. The opening festivities also included a public dedication of a future 141-acre parcel of public hunting land northwest of Austin that was donated by the Worlein Family. Mower SWCD staff also have been involved with that project situated near Murphy Creek in Lansing Township. With the recent resurgence in the Austin area’s pheasant population, conservationists and hunters in Mower County were excited to showcase the local hunting resources. Austin was picked mostly based on the area’s hunting land, event facilities and community support. The Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener was initiated in 2011 by Gov. Mark Dayton. Fairmont will host the 2020 pheasant opener.

Vegetative buffers under conservation easements and grass waterways are part of the Tapp farm along Dobbins Creek’s north branch in Red Rock Township.

Tapps honored for conservation on Dobbins Creek From streams to farm fields, Gene and Bridget Tapp have applied conservation practices over the years to help keep soil as well as streambanks from washing away during heavy rainfall. With about 1,000 acres farmed for corn and soybeans in the Brownsdale area, the Tapps have worked with Mower SWCD and Cedar River Watershed District staff to install grass waterways in fields; build earthen embankments to control stormwater; enroll about 4.5 acres into the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); and stabilize streambanks on North Dobbins Creek. Tapps are among a small number of area farmers practicing no-till soybeans, which does not dig up soil. No-till helps a farm operation, water quality and soil health. Mower SWCD honored the Tapps as its 2019 Outstanding Conservationists of the Year. The Tapps were honored with other SWCD families in December at the annual convention of the Minnesota Association of SWCDs (MASWCD). In 2019, Gene Tapp harvested his 41st crop on the farm that dates back in his

Flowers bloom in September 2019 in a buffer strip on the Tapp farm near Dobbins Creek’s north branch.

family to the 1940s. tivity and protect Dobbins Creek’s water In the past year, the Tapps worked quality, Fox said. with CRWD to use their land for restoring streambanks to stabilize and protect Dobbins Creek through their farm. Several practices, such as creating rock riffles and drilling woody vegetation into erosive banks, were installed. Studies show 40 to 60 percent of dirt in local streams come from in-stream sources, such as streambank erosion. Mower SWCD project manager Cody Fox has worked with the Tapps to install various conservation practices. “The Tapps are conscientious farmers who care about soil erosion, and they keep an open mind to conservation ideas,” Fox said. Aside from no-till farming for soybeans for about seven years, the Tapps have implemented an array of projects to preserve the land’s long-term produc-

We Are Water MN stops in Mower Thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds came together over water in spring 2019 thanks to the We Are Water MN exhibit in Austin. Led locally by Mower SWCD-CRWD staff, the We Are Water MN statewide traveling exhibit spent seven weeks from late April to mid-June at Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, where it was free to the public to view. Aside from the exhibit, Mower SWCD and its local planning group (CRWD, nature center, Austin Utilities, Hormel Foods, Discover Austin, Mower County Historical Society and Riverland Community College) offered four major events and several other waterrelated activities in the same period. About 150 people attended the exhibit’s opening ceremony in April. Mower SWCD and Austin Utilities teamed with the Water Bar Studio of Minneapolis to offer a water-tasting station at the annual Taste of Nations event that drew about 1,500 people. This was part of an effort to educate the public on the local groundwater resources for drinking water. Mower SWCD-CRWD and the nature center offered free canoe and kayak rentals in June as part of 4th Ave Fest on the Cedar River at Austin Mill Pond. About 120 people paddled the river. Jay C. Hormel Nature Center also

put on its week-long Water Festival in June that offered numerous events and projects, including a volunteer cleanup of the Cedar River in Austin. We Are Water MN’s leaders from the Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency emphasized host organizers reach out to their community’s absentee voices and populations of color.

As part of a southeast Minnesota collaborative grant, Mower SWCD began in August 2019 to offer cost-share assistance for Mower County landowners to seal unused wells. Under the state grant, areas deemed most vulnerable for potential groundwater pollution affecting drinking water were made the first priority for the program that runs through 2020. Cost-share covers 50 percent of the well-sealing cost up to $1,000. With strong demand locally, Mower SWCD, which initially got $5,000, was able to secure an additional $5,000 to offer more well sealing cost-share. All interested landowners should apply in case funds remain in 2020 for sealing wells in non-priority areas. Unused wells should be sealed for physical safety; health and environ-

ment; and legal responsibilities. An unused well can act like a drain that allows surface water runoff, contaminated water or improperly disposed waste a direct pathway into drinking water sources. Starting in 2020, Mower SWCD teamed with Austin Utilities, a municipal water supplier, to offer additional cost-share on sealing unused wells.

Lyle and Southland fifth-grade students in May 2019 paddle the Cedar River State Water Trail in Ramsey Mill Pond near Austin for the Canoemobile program.

Austin Utilities’ Todd Jorgenson hands out samples of water from three sources in April 2019 with Mower SWCD at Austin’s annual Taste of Nations festival that drew about 1,500 people.

More than 600 area youth paddled the Cedar River State Water Trail in May 2019 for the second offering of the Canoemobile program organized by Mower SWCD-Cedar River Watershed District. SWCD-CRWD organized five school days of Canoemobile led by Minneapolis nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry. State funds given annually to Mower County for aquatic invasive species outreach and work covered most of Canoemobile, which discussed AIS prevention during water- and land-based segments. Canoemobile staged six 10-person canoes at the Ramsey Dam near Austin. Once given life jackets and safety training, groups paddled with one Wilderness Inquiry “boat captain” steering from the rear up the Cedar and back. SWCD-CRWD and Wilderness Inquiry also led two land-based stations. All public and private schools based in Mower County were invited. Hayfield Schools also participated.

Fourth-graders from Austin’s Southgate School learn about natural resources in May 2019 from a Wilderness Inquiry staffer helping Mower SWCD.

Crews work to start restoring native prairie and wetlands in fall 2019 on the Garbisch Family’s land through MN CREP in Red Rock Township near Roberts Creek.

About 360 acres of marginal cropland in Mower County are being restored permanently to native prairie and wetlands through an ongoing state-federal partnership. As of late 2019, eight projects in Mower County so far had received final funding approval through the MN CREP program. With these projects, 344

acres are being permanently restored in the Cedar River watershed in western Mower and 16 acres (Deer Creek) in the Root River watershed of eastern Mower. At least 200 additional acres of cropland are anticipated to be finalized in spring 2020 for MN CREP funding in the subwatershed of Wolf Creek, a Cedar River tribu-

Members of the Garbisch Family — (left to right) Stephanie, Chris, Emerson and Steve Garbisch on established CREP prairie land in Red Rock Township.

tary, said James Fett, a Mower SWCD watershed technician who oversees the MN CREP program in Mower County in coordination with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). In 2019, Mower County’s first signup for MN CREP, which was launched in 2017 by the state and federal governments, was the Garbisch Family in March 2019. Mower SWCD’s Board of Supervisors honored Steve Garbisch and his family at that time for being the county’s first MN CREP signup for the remaining 75 acres of the family farm that dates back to 1934 along Roberts Creek, west of Brownsdale. Around the same time, the Loucks Family also enrolled 6 acres of cropland into MN CREP along Rose Creek in Austin Township. Crews in fall 2019 prepped

the Garbisch site, including building wetland areas, for a 2020 planting of a highly diverse mix of native grasses forbs beneficial to wildlife and pollinator habitat. In a previous CREP round nearly a decade earlier, the Garbisch family enrolled about 80 acres of the farm into permanent conservation. In August 2019, Mower SWCD honored the Garbisch family as its 2019 Outstanding Wildlife Conservationist. “On my existing CREP land, it’s fun to walk out in the 5foot-tall grass and flush a pheasant or have a deer get up in front of you,” Steve Garbisch said. “We have a lot of wild turkeys and deer, and our pheasant population has started to come back.” With the family’s 75 conservation acres, about 615 acres in a 2-square-mile area – nearly half the land – are in conservation programs or

being added to Mower County part of Roberts Creek’s woods and floodplains. That supports many geese, ducks and sandhill cranes. MN CREP A voluntary program, MN CREP aims to improve water quality and wildlife habitat through permanent conservation easements that keep the land privately owned. “MN CREP is a way to make a positive change on the landscape that lasts forever,” Fett said. “It’s really exciting to have MN CREP available because, unlike other conservation programs, it’s not always available to us.” Mower County landowners are encouraged to contact Fett at Mower SWCD to learn more about MN CREP, especially for flood-prone or erosive crop acres. “Low crop prices and unusually high amounts of rain in 2019 might have farmers

looking at their fields differently,” Fett said. “MN CREP gives them an opportunity to retire problematic acres from production and turn them into excellent wildlife habitat that benefits water quality.” MN CREP aims to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres of marginal cropland across 54 southern and western Minnesota counties, including Mower, by using buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead protection. Landowners accepted into MN CREP enroll in the federal USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for 10 to 15 years. At the same time, the land is put into a permanent conservation easement through the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM). MN CREP pays 100 percent of the costs for restoring cropland to wetlands and prairie. It involves a perpetual

“MN CREP is a great opportunity that’s not always around.” James Fett Mower SWCD

James Fett checks a restored prairie in summer 2019 in Dexter Township that was part of a project Mower SWCD assisted through a prior CREP program.

Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson speaks in May 2017 about Mower County landowner Roger Peterson (left) on former cropland in Udolpho Township that Peterson restored to native prairie through a previous round of CREP.

easement in which landowners retain private ownership of enrolled acres. Public hunting never is allowed on MN CREP land unless approved by the landowner. Under MN CREP, work typically involves restoring hydrology through tile breaks, tile blocks, scrapes, embankment construction and daylighting tiles, among other practices. Sites are seeded with a highly diverse mixture of native grasses and forbs beneficial to wildlife and pollinator habitat. It also prevents erosion and filters surface and ground water. In designing MN CREP projects, engineers take careful detail to ensure landowners upstream and downstream have no negative effects to their drainage.

rie restored through a previous CREP program. At that event with Mower SWCD, Peterson said CREP gave him the chance to get paid to permanently restore eroding cropland into prairie. “I just jumped at that idea and never looked back, and I’ve been happy with it ever since,” Peterson said in 2017. “The wildlife here is phenomenal.” Now, the Petersons have enrolled another 24 acres of cropland along Blooming Prairie Creek, a Cedar River tributary, in Udolpho Township. A neighboring family, Brad & Wendy Hines, also enrolled 20 acres of cropland along the same creek there. Other Mower County landowners are encouraged to give MN CREP consideration. “We hope people at least look into the possibilities for Returning to CREP their land soon,” Fett said, One MN CREP enrollee adding that MN CREP also can from 2019 was Roger and Dawna Peterson, who helped enroll land already in an exMower SWCD launch the MN isting Conservation Reserve CREP initiative locally in 2017 Program (CRP) contract, dealong the Cedar River on prai- pending on the situation.

Farmers team with Mower SWCD on research project

Mower SWCD soil scientist Steve Lawler (left) works with others to drill one of 32 groundwater-monitoring wells in June 2019 at the Sustainable Answer Acre site in Lansing Township to compare nitrate movement.

A sign posted in late 2019 by Northern Country Coop highlights the Sustainable Answer Acre partnerships.

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.

Drone footage from fall 2019 shows the Sustainable Answer Acre site near Northern Country Coop’s grain elevator. Native prairie buffer strips border the plots.

Mower SWCD-CRWD staff in yellow jackets stand atop the Dobbins 1 project’s upstream berm in Dexter Township after a heavy rain storm in September 2019.

Mower SWCD-CRWD project manager Cody Fox (pointing) talks to The Hormel Foundation and local leaders in October 2019 at the Dobbins 1 upstream berm. Fox

Fox (in yellow) talks to Leadership Austin in November 2019 about the 250th Street project nearing completion in Red Rock Township for the group’s Ag Day.

Connecting, educating on Mower County’s natural

Mower SWCD’s James Fett (green shirt on right) talks to Clean Water Council members in September 2019 about the water-monitoring station at the Wayne DeWall farm near Grand Meadow. The station is part of the MN Dept. of Agriculture’s Field to Stream Partnership in the headwaters of the Root River’s south branch.

On a sunny afternoon in September 2019, members of the Minnesota Clean Water Council walked around the edge of a corn field south of Grand Meadow to learn about an innovative way of testing the water quality of cropland runoff. As part of the Root River Field to Stream Partnership, Mower SWCD watershed technician James Fett, who leads the monitoring at the station on Wayne DeWall’s farm in the headwaters of the Root River’s south branch, talked with members about how the system collects samples of snowmelt and rainfall runoff. Justin Hanson, Mower SWCD’s district manager, also addressed the group along with the Field to Stream’s project lead Kevin Kuehner of the MN Dept. of Agriculture.

Created in 2006, the Clean Water Council’s role is to advise the state Legislature and governor on the administration and implementation of the Clean Water Legacy Act. With a highly wet year in 2019, Mower SWCD stayed busy with water sampling for Field to Stream’s three stations in Mower County between Grand Meadow and LeRoy. 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 continued in 2019 to work with eastern Mower County landowners to implement field structures, such as grass waterways, to address water and soil issues through initiatives, including Field to Stream.

Partnership seeks ag certainty signups

Tom Raymond of Hormel Foods Corp. speaks in January 2019 at a CRWP event in Austin. Mower SWCD’s Justin Hanson (to his left) and other members also spoke.

State approves Cedar 1W1P

Mower Soil & Water Conservation District 1408 21st Ave. NW Austin, MN 55912 507-434-2603, ext. 5

Tree program taking orders