GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Rick Grooters shares reflections on his years as part of the SWCD staff.
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP Rick Grooters shares reflections on his years as part of the SWCD staff.
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Marking a 75th anniversary?

Forget just having dinner – get a bus tour and a zillion acronyms.

Fillmore County’s Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) observed its 75th anniversary last Tuesday, June 27, by hosting a bus tour of the countryside to show off the numerous projects it has carried out or helped with throughout the county. The tour offered residents a chance to get acquainted with SWCD employees and all the acronyms that stand for the programs staff members use to keep the land and water well-managed for better quality of life.

The conservation tour began in early afternoon at the county fairgrounds, with several speakers sharing information as the bus rolled past the green fields watered by streams and some clean rainwater. They were retired Soil Conservation Service Soil Scientist George Poch, Fillmore SWCD Technician Rick Grooters, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Representative Kevin Kuehner, Mower SWCD Representative Steve Lawler, and farmer and Field to Stream Monitoring Program participant Todd Hendrickson.

The first stop on the tour was the East Willow flood control structure, followed by pulling over at the side of a field monitoring site that is part of the Field to Stream Partnership (FSP). The bus then made its way to the Scheevel Quarry for local geology as shared by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Hydrogeologist Jeff Green and Minnesota Geological Survey Chief Geologist Tony Runkel and Minnesota Geological Survey scientist Julia Steenberg. Runkel and Steenberg educated the tour participants on “How Geology Influences Nitrate Transport in Karst.”

On the way back to the Fillmore County fairgrounds, everyone onboard took a passing view of the FSP Crystal Creek outlet monitoring station, where water quality is checked.

SWCD displays at the fairgrounds included a rain simulator demonstration given by SWCD area soil health technician Dean Thomas and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) soil scientist Dan Nath, who illustrated the properties of each kind of local soil in relation to rainwater falling on it and explained what the effects of good soil management might foster.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) representative Lee Ganske shared a stream table demonstration.

After the demonstrations, and after having a chance to look at all the displays, participants and others enjoyed the evening’s dinner – steak sandwiches grilled by the Fillmore County Cattlemen and ice cream from Kappers’ Big Red Barn in Chatfield.

After dessert, the Fillmore County SWCD Board of Supervisors introduced themselves, including District 1 supervisor Brian Hazel, District 2 representative Tim Gossman, Kathy Tesmer of District 3, Bob Pickett of District 4, and Travis Willford of District 5.

SWCD staff includes Administrator Donna Rasmussen, Grooters, fellow Conservation Technician Doug Keene, Engineering Technician Anne Koliha, Administrative Assistant Jeanette Serfling, Soil Health Technician Dean Thomas, Water Management Coordinator Caleb Fischer and Nutrient Management Specialist John Boyum.

Grooters and Hazel were among those giving comments on the SWCD’s history. Grooters recounted that when he began working with the SWCD in 1985, he spent quite a lot of time reading soils maps.

“I used to measure soils, I used to color in the soils maps…that was a lot of soils map-reading for one week. When I first started, we had a Dodge Rampage, and the SWCD got its first pickup in 2001. That’s when my job was laying out contour maps…I don’t do that anymore,” he said.

He went on to outline more changes, such as that the SWCD used to sell lots of sapling trees but now sells larger trees to help landowners establish their groves more quickly, and that there are so very many programs.

“We have lots of programs, many different acronyms, like EQIP, nutrient management, and now I’m working on the new buffer law…what will happen in the next 75 years?,” Grooters pondered. “Will tractors drive themselves? They practically do today. Will we have 300-bushel corn? I don’t know that, but I know that our job is to protect our natural resources.”

Hazel told about how he joined the supervisors in 1979 and hasn’t gotten much more than a short break over the past 30-plus years.

“(Farming) is mostly row-crop now, and there’s bigger machinery and challenges to maintain the soil with the larger equipment,” he said. “We’re doing as much no-till as we can and take pride in that the soils stay where they were put…there’s cover crops and new practices. I hope as a board member that I have demonstrated a different way of doing things…what I think is good for the land...it’ll be fun to watch what’s happening over the next 20 years.”

The evening concluded after several other speakers contributed their memories of the SWCD’s history and the people who have made it possible. Rasmussen and Willford thanked everyone for coming to help celebrate the agency’s 75th anniversary in style.