On September 8, LWV UMRR Vice-president Lonni McCauley attended the Cover Crop and Soil Health Learning Tour put on by the University of Minnesota in Rushmore in southwestern Minnesota. The tour included water infiltration demonstrations, hands-on activities, cover crop by herbicide demonstrations, research updates, a farmer panel, soil-root pit, and equipment demonstrations. Speakers at the session included: Shannon Osborne, USDA-ARS; Jennifer Hahn, Pheasants Forever; Brian Christianson, USDA-NRCS; John Shea, Nobles Co. SWCD; and Scotty Wells, Gregg Johnson, Jodi DeJong-Hughes, Liz Stahl, Randy Pepin, and Dan Raskin, U of MN Extension. The farmer panel was made up of Bruce Brunk, Bryan Bielger, and Mike Erbes.
Lonni learned that cover crop adoption in Minnesota is not widespread – only 2% of farm land in Minnesota is in cover crops at this time. The University researchers are promoting strip-tilling, which is a hybrid tillage technique between no-till and clear-till. It leaves a 5-inch plowed furrow next to a 7-inch wide cover crop. This technique serves to have ease of planting in the plowed strip and also the advantage of a cover crop to stop soil erosion and water/nutrient loss.
A three-farmer panel discussed their experiences and successes with cover crops. All three farmer panelists indicated they began farming with their dads. They indicated it was hard to persuade their dads to change to cover crops and less than clear-till farming. Only their increased yields on test plots convinced them. The average age of farmers in Minnesota is 57. They are reluctant to change lifelong farming habits.
The demonstration plots show that cover crops can lead to significant improvement in water retention and soil health. The host farmer said his fields now drain almost no water into the culvert in the ditch adjacent to his fields. In this picture, you see Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension, demonstrate four-foot topsoil and the health of the soil after only three years of cover crop/low till practice.
Lonni also reported that alfalfa pellets are being introduced by the U of M as fish food. They take the place of fish-based pellets which are depleting fish populations in the oceans. This will be a boon to the inland fish pond factories springing up in the country and another market for alfalfa. Alfalfa is a perennial crop that requires less inputs and retains soils and water on the farm field.
This program is supported in part from a Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service and funding from MN North Central Region-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. You can read more about this program here.
Thanks to Lonni for attending this session and assisting with this blog post!
The League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region, in cooperation with 13 other organizations, sponsored a Community Water Conversation at Anoka Ramsey Community College on Tuesday, August 29. About 75 people attended, including members of the public, water professionals and elected officials. This meeting was part of the Governor’s series of meetings with Minnesotans on how to reduce water pollution by 25% by the year 2025.
After opening remarks by Bruce Bomier from the Environmental Resources Council, small groups were asked to identify their top priorities for water quality improvement and how those priorities could be achieved. Reducing pollution and improving storm water practices were top priorities, along with improving environmental literacy and water education. Thoughtful discussions lead to recommendations for action such as increased installation of storm water ponds and rain gardens, and development of water education curriculum for school children.
One small group suggested that Minnesota must “Set firm goals:
Another recommendation in this vein,
“Analyze where, when and who, then increase training and education for water systems and human impact. Example:
Participants also listed barriers to achieving the pollution reduction goals through the actions they had specified. One group listed barriers to taking individual actions to improve water quality:
Insufficient funding and problems with government regulation were also listed as barriers.
All group suggestions and comments were recorded and sent to the Governor’s office for inclusion in the water meetings database. Anna Henderson, Water Advisor to Governor Mark Dayton was at the meeting. According to Henderson, “Governor Dayton wants to hear from every Minnesotan on what water quality goals they want the state to focus on in their region and what they think needs to happen to achieve those goals. The Governor and key members of his Cabinet are travelling all over the state to host town halls, but not everyone can make a town hall or wants to be in such a large setting. That is why it is so important that groups like the League of Women Voters organize their own community water meetings. The room was full and the conversation was energized – it was exciting to be there and clear that people are engaged and full of great ideas. Thank you to the League of Women Voters for hosting this important conversation. It is up to all of us to work to improve Minnesota’s water quality for future generations to come.”
The League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region is a non-partisan organization aimed at protecting and improving water quality in the Mississippi River basin, from the Headwaters at Lake Itasca to southern Illinois. This group is made up of 50 local member Leagues from throughout the basin, plus the state Leagues of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Other sponsoring organizations for this meeting included the Anoka Conservation District, the Anoka County Water Task Force, Anoka Ramsey Community College, Izaak Walton League Breckenridge Chapter, Blaine Natural Resources Conservation Board, Conservation Minnesota, Coon Rapids Rotary, Coon Rapids Sustainability Roundtable, Environmental Resources Council, Fridley Environmental Quality and Energy Commission, League of Women Voters ABC, Lower Rum River Water Management Organization and Rice Creek Watershed.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||