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Conservation shines in Fillmore CountyBy Mike McGrathMonday, July 16, 2001

Last Thursday, the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) hosted a bus tour that featured recently installed conservation practices on local farms. The tour was well attended by farmers, conservation professionals, county commissioners and others.

The focus of the bulk of the tour was to educate the attendees on the new open feedlot regulations. The new Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) feedlot regulations that went into effect last year require all feedlot operators to come into compliance with manure management rules.

Under the MPCAs 2005/2010 Open-Lot Certification program for open-lot feedlots with less than 300 animal units, farmers are given the opportunity for an extended schedule to address manure-contaminated runoff from their open lots.

Those registered feedlots that are enrolled in the certification program have until October 1, 2005 to install interim corrective measures, and until October 1, 2010 to complete final corrective measures. Without certification in the program, owners must correct pollution hazards within 24 months.

The first stop on the tour was Rumpus Ridge Farms near Preston. Due to bio-security issues related to the recent Hoof and Mouth disease outbreaks in Europe, the group did not leave the bus. However, they were able to observe the construction of a new collection basin for manure solids and a storm water diversion system being installed at a new feedlot site on the dairy farm owned by Jerry Gartner.

The expansive Rumpus Ridge Dairy is utilizing cost-share programs through the SWCD office to construct a new feedlot runoff and drainage system that addresses both the runoff from the feedlot as well as the storm water entering the feedlot.

Local SWCD Administrator, Kevin Scheidecker, was the guide for the bus tour and carefully explained the new programs that are coming into effect.

"The whole reason we are focusing on this is the Karst topography and sensitive ground water," explained Scheidecker.

Scheidecker introduced the Fillmore County Feedlot Officer, Mike Frauenkron, to the tour group and explained that Fillmore County is fortunate to have its own feedlot officer to provide "local control and flexibility" in the administration of the states new feedlot regulations.

The tour moved from the Gartner farm to the Norman Eickhoff farm on Highway 16 near Wykoff. Eickhoff, who farms with his son Jeff, recently installed a state-of-the-art manure management system that diverts storm water through a pipe under the feedlot to a nearby pond.

Runoff water from the feedlot itself is drained through a concrete collection basin that traps the solids and feeds the water through a pipe to a grass filter strip. When the water enters the filter strip it is slowed by gravel beds that allow further settling of solid material and percolation of he black water into the grass strip.

SWCD engineer, Pete Fryer, designed the manure management system at the Eickhoff farm and explained how it works. "There is a lot of management to make sure everything is running right," said Fryer. As part of that management, the Eickhoffs must keep the drainage system open and running, keep the lot, the concrete inlets and the outlets all clean of manure, and mow the filter strip and remove the nutrient-laden grass after cutting.

While state cost-share dollars contributed 75% of the $12,000 cost to construct the system, the Eickhoff management labor is not covered by cost-share assistance. However, a new bill currently pending in Congress, the Conservation Security Act, co-sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, would provide financial assistance to farmers like the Eickhoffs to maintain this type of conservation practice.

Before leaving the Eickhoff farm, Scheidecker explained the priority for the cost-share dollars: "There are such limited funds to go aroundthe priority will be for feedlots within 300 feet of a stream or sinkhole." The County Feedlot Officer is preparing a map showing the location of all registered feedlots in the county to be used to identify the priority sites.

As the bus left the Eickhoff farm it headed south through the rolling countryside towards the Forestville State Park area, then turned east towards Harmony before looping back to Preston.

Along the route, the bus would slow as Scheidecker pointed out numerous conservation practices being implemented by county farmers.

The installation of grassed waterways being enrolled in a Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on the Jim Vagts farm, the installation of vegetative buffer strips between a feedlot and a drainage on the Randy Grabau farm, rotational grazing by Marlo Mensink, and newly-planted Continuous CRP Contour Buffer Strips on the Bob Maust farm were all identified as examples of conservation farming at work in Fillmore County.

Even two, newly opened sinkholes were pointed out as evidence of the need for sensitivity to the areas unique geology.

As the bus rolled into the lot at the Natural Resource building, the Fillmore County Cattleman were waiting with grilled rib eye steak sandwiches for lunch. All seem to agree that the morning tour provided a great opportunity to learn about conservation farming opportunities available to Fillmore County farmers.

By Mike McGrath

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