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HLWD to launch five-year Cover Crop Research Plots

HERON LAKE -- The Heron Lake Watershed District is in search of willing landowners in each of its four counties -- Nobles, Jackson, Murray and Cottonwood -- to participate in a new research program focusing on cover crops.

HERON LAKE - The Heron Lake Watershed District is in search of willing landowners in each of its four counties - Nobles, Jackson, Murray and Cottonwood - to participate in a new research program focusing on cover crops.

During a meeting of the watershed’s board of managers Thursday, district technician Catherine Wegehaupt said landowners willing to participate in the HLWD Cover Crop Research Plots will need to enroll the land for five years. The district is looking for one field (40 to 80 acres in size to have two plots of either 20 or 40 acres) in each county for the trial.

With the side-by-side trials, samples will be taken from the farm fields each year for five years to gather long-term, local data about cover crop management. Final results will be presented at a field day following the five-year study.

Additional district goals with the research plots are to engage farmers and agronomists in implementation of cover crop side-by-side trials for water quality improvement and provide information to the public about local, field-scale research on an annual basis.

Incentives will be provided to the landowner and agronomist at the end of each year of the research project.

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The proposed research plot is the newest on a list of projects the watershed district will work on in 2017. HLWD Administrator Jan Voit said the district has a $250,000 budget, in addition to nearly $295,000 in grant dollars and $46,000 in survey and data acquisition funds for the year.

With those dollars, Voit outlined projects from collecting water samples on Jack and Okabena creeks and the Heron Lake outlet to completing streambank stabilization projects, implementing best management practices, working with producers on the final year of the EPA 319 grant for cover crop trials and planning one or two field days on cover crops, doing community outreach for the district’s work on impaired waters and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies and providing low-interest loans for septic system replacement, among other projects.

Prior to the discussion on the watershed’s 2017 work plan, Murray County Commissioner Dave Thiner asked how the district, with its small staff, will have time to oversee enforcement of the state’s new buffer law and handle ditch hearings for cleanouts and redetermination of benefits.

“How do you maintain the other programs you have?” he asked. “To me, you don’t have enough staff. It’s only going to get worse. If we had enough viewers, we’d be doing a whole lot more (hearings for redetermination of benefits).”

Gary Ewert, a board member and ditch viewer, said drainage is a big issue, and the watershed district is the drainage authority by state statute.

“The watershed promotes and assists landowners in maximum production of crops,” Ewert said. “Part of that is drainage improvement.”

Thiner also questioned ditch cleanouts, asking, “Isn’t it good for weeds and grass to be in the ditch?” He said cleaning out ditches seems counterproductive to the watershed district’s mission to protect and improve water resources.

“Weeds and grasses in the ditches is a good thing,” Ewert replied. “The petitions and engineering reports that come out (for improvements to a ditch system), their primary purpose isn’t to just basically clean those ditches; they reshape to capacity drainage. Those ditches constructed in the ’20s and ’30s were not designed with adequate capacity for what the drainage system is required to do now.”

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In other business, the board:

  • Approved updating the district’s water management plan, at a cost of $12,484, to be paid from the district’s data and survey acquisition fund. Houston Engineering will assist the district in completing the plan.

  • Set compensation for board managers at $75 per day, in accordance with state statute.

  • Appointed Worthington City Council member Larry Janssen as a new member of the HLWD Advisory Committee and reappointed members Paul Pietz, Matt Widboom, Jim Eigenberg, Jerry Ackermann, Allen Jensen, Naomi Hill, Kevin Stevens, Andy Geiger, Dave Thiner, Jerry Christopherson, Wayne Smith, Jean Christoffels, John Shea, Chris Bauer, Dave Husson, Shelly Lewis, Mona Henkels, Kay Gross, Clark Lingbeek, Julie Lopez, Doug Goodrich, Katherine Pekarek-Scott, Randy Markl and Brian Nyborg.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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