2021 Annual Report for Mower SWCD

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Minnesota’s 2021 SWCD of the Year

2021 Annual Report

Upland-storage berm in Red Rock Township Mower County

owe Randy Smith, chair of Mower SWCD’s Board of Supervisors, started in 2021 serving as a board member for the Minnesota Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD). Smith, who farms near Adams with crop and livestock production, serves on the board as MASWCD’s Southeast Area 7 director. He represents 11 SWCD offices in southeast Minnesota. Since 2016, Smith has served in an elected role on Mower SWCD’s Board of Supervisors. Smith credits much of his interest in serving on Smith the MASWCD’s state board to his former colleague Jim Gebhardt, who served for 30 years on the Mower SWCD Board of Supervisors and was active in the MASWCD.

Justin Hanson

Jeanne Crump

Cody Fox

James Fett

Steve Lawler

District Manager

Office Manager

Project Manager

Watershed Technician

Resource Specialist

Larry Callahan

Mattie Hackensmith

Jensen Bigelow

District Technician


MN GreenCorps member

Tim Ruzek Water Plan & Outreach Coordinator

Paul Hunter

Minnesota’s SWCD of the Year dream big and then set


“Our community has a strong conservation ethic that allows us to blast through barriers and get our projects done,” Hanson said. “I always know we have the talent to

Looking Back - 2021 Best Management Practices Cover crops 1,122 acres

Grass waterways 14 projects (3.7 miles)

Conservation Reserve Program 457 acres enrolled

Windbreaks 5 projects

Conservation planning 40 plans

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.


‘Answer Acre’ awarded

Terry Hamilton (right) talks about his soil-health practices, including cover crops, in 2017 on his rural Adams farm for a Mower SWCD field day.

Hamiltons honored for conservation

(Left-right) Mower SWCD’s Justin Hanson awards Northern Country Coop’s Jeff Irvin and Nathan Augustine with the “Outstanding Conservationist” award in August 2021 at the Mower County Fair for its Sustainable Answer Acre project (shown via drone at top).

Mower County had another busy year installing septic systems for a county initiative to protect local waterways and underground drinking water sources. In 2021, Mower County Environmental Services issued 128 permits for new subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS), with 112 of those systems completed to bring properties into compliance. This construction followed a record year in 2020 when 128 septic systems were installed in the county, topping a prior record of 125 systems from a decade earlier. Mower SWCD assists the county with the SSTS initiative’s outreach. Townships with the most septic systems installed in 2021 were Austin (10); Adams (nine); Racine (nine); and LeRoy (eight). About 62 percent of those

systems were built in the Cedar River watershed (west half of Mower), with 38 percent in the Root River and Upper Iowa watersheds of Mower’s east half. Mower County’s Board of Commissioners launched an SSTS initiative in 2020 to complete the final phase of the county’s longrunning efforts to achieve septic compliance countywide. “Human health and the environment are threatened by poorly functioning septic systems,” said Angela Lipelt, Mower County’s environmental services supervisor. “All our efforts at the county,” Lipelt said, “are aimed at more easily finding and fixing septic systems that likely are not removing pathogens, nutrients and other chemicals from wastewater before it enters our groundwater, lakes and streams.”

A contractor installs a new subsurface sewage treatment system at a rural Mower County residence.


Prairie This practice was the focus of a free field day in September 2021 by Mower SWCD and partners at Wayne DeWall’s farm near Grand Meadow in the Root River’s south branch headwaters.

Wayne DeWall, farmer

. Prairie strips provide benefits to a greater degree than other types of perennial vegetation because they use a diverse array of native plant species with deep, multi-layered root systems and stiff stems that hold up during a driving rain. DeWall is happy with the prairie strip, which has trapped soil swept up in runoff from bigger rains.

that’s as far as it goes basically, which is exactly what we wanted,” DeWall said. “And that’s good to see that it’s actually working.” It took a few years for the prairie strip to get established, he said, but you just have to be patient because it’s worth the wait. “We’ve got lots of native grasses, lots of flowers,” DeWall said. “It’s exactly what we were looking for when we started this.”

“Prairie strips are an innovative, flexible solution that landowners can put anywhere,” Fett said. Ranging from 30 to 120 feet wide, prairie strips are highly effective at reducing the loss of sediment, nutrients and pesticides when stormwater runs off cropland into the strip. “A lot of landowners are enrolling prairie strips in areas that are sensitive to erosion,” Fett said. “That’s often the headlands and fence lines of a field. Landowners also are enrolling prairie strips along areas with trees that typically produce lower crop yields due to competition with corn and soybeans for sunlight, water and nutrients. Fett collects stormwater -runoff samples from a water-monitoring site on DeWall’s farm next to his prairie strip. This longrunning effort is part of the Minnesota Butterfly on DeWall’s strip Department of Agriculture’s Root River Field to Stream Partnership program led by MDA hydrologist Kevin Kuehner. The program operates two other water-monitoring sites within the Root watershed in neighboring Fillmore County. This partnership is a multi-organizational effort to evaluate agricultural practices and water quality at multiple scales and landscape settings. By strategically selecting study watersheds, this allows its findings to be applied to similar ag areas in southeastern Minnesota. DeWall’s prairie strip was created as part of MDA’s Field to Stream Partnership. Partners closely monitor and measure each stormwater runoff event at the site. Prior to the prairie strip on DeWall’s farm, the partnership gathered six years of data at the site. Early results show immediate, water-quality improvements at DeWall’s farm from having an established prairie strip between crop fields


Take cover Mower SWCD continues soil-health research, outreach

Adams-area farmer Terry Hamilton (center) and Mower SWCD’s Steve Lawler (in the soil pit) lead a demonstration Oct. 29 at the Hamilton farm for a Soil Health Field Day. Below, winter cereal rye and turnips grow as cover crops on a harvested corn field at the Hamilton farm.

Another six Mower County farmers and landowners earned certification in 2021 from the State of Minnesota for doing good things on their land to benefit water quality. Mower SWCD Board of Supervisors member Micah Peterson was one of those landowners certified in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Peterson earned certification for his conservation efforts on his Pleasant Valley Township property along the North Fork of Bear Creek near Grand

Meadow. It’s part of the Root River’s headwaters in eastern Mower County. P

Mower SWCD continues to promote the MAWQCP program with the publicprivate collaborative Cedar River Watershed Partnership and other partners, including neighboring Freeborn SWCD that has provided technician Brittany Dawson as a lead for “ag certainty” signups in Mower.

Since 2017, Mower SWCD has led the enrollment of 613 acres of cropland into permanent native prairie and restored wetlands through the state-federal MN CREP program. Out of those parcels, 344 acres have been recorded and finalized with completed restorations, said James Fett, Mower SWCD’s watershed technician who leads MN CREP locally. In 2021, Mower SWCD in coordination with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) submitted and received state approval for three MN CREP applications, totaling 191 acres. This enrollments included: • 81 acres in Udolpho Township (southeast of Blooming Prairie) along the Cedar River — Peterson property • 59 acres in Udolpho Township (southeast of Blooming Prairie) along the Cedar River — Bishop property • 51 acres in Lansing Township along Ramsey Creek (flows to the Cedar River at Ramsey Mill Pond) — Bires property

Mower SWCD board member Micah Peterson receives in fall 2021 an “ag certainty” sign from Brittany Dawson of Freeborn SWCD, who helps with MAWQCP applicants in Mower County.

Also in 2021, seeding and restoration work was done on the 104-acre MN CREP enrollment on the Christianson property along Wolf Creek—a Cedar River tributary — north of Austin, as well as on nearly 16 acres of the Mrotek property in the floodplain of Deer Creek, east of Grand Meadow. MN CREP aims to improve water quality and wildlife habitat through permanent conservation easements focused on floodprone or erosive acres or also known as “marginal cropland.” MN CREP combines the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and federal CRP programs into one offering. Under MN CREP, 100 percent of the costs for restoring cropland to wetlands and prairie is covered by the program, which obtains a perpetual easement in which landowners retain private ownership of enrolled acres. Mower County landowners are encouraged to contact Fett at Mower SWCD to learn more about MN CREP.

(ABOVE) Crews work in August 2021 along Deer Creek in eastern Mower County to restore former cropland into permanent prairie and wetlands on the Mrotek property as part of a enrollment in the state-federal MN CREP program led locally by Mower SWCD.


Watershed moment

In 2021, Mower SWCD led the construction of six grassed waterways — totaling 8,644 feet — in the Root River’s headwaters of eastern Mower County. These projects were supported by funds from the Root River Comprehensive Water Management Plan, which was one of the first created and approved by the state in late 2016. Grassed waterways were built in Bennington, Frankford and Grand Meadow townships. Eastern Mower County hosts the headwaters of the north, middle and south branches of the Root River State Water Trail that flows easterly to the Mississippi River in Houston County.

Trees top 10,000


Busy AIS year in Mower

Mower SWCD’s Larry Callahan (front) and James Fett help unload hundreds of trees in April 2021 at Austin’s Runnings store. This was for the two days of pickups by people who bought bareroot or container-grown trees through Mower SWCD’s annual tree program.

Mower Soil & Water Conservation District 1408 21st Ave. N.W. Austin, MN 55912 507-434-2603, ext. 5 www.mowerswcd.org