Farm Horizons, November 2007

Wright SWCD offers help in many ways

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

The Wright Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has many functions, but its primary job, according to Office Manager Kerry Saxton, is to help people come into compliance with environmental regulations.

The district acts as a sort of clearing house for information, and a source for tools to help landowners address environmental issues.

The office is made up of five full-time and one-part time person who specialize in different areas including wetlands, water resources, and urban issues.

In addition to providing information, the district has a variety of programs to help landowners implement changes.

One way that the district helps landowners is by providing technical assistance. This service is available at no charge to Wright County residents.

This may include educating farm operators about sustainable farming practices, rotational grazing, compost systems, helping to design feedlots, or helping with erosion issues.

“We help the farm community do a better job of protecting the environment,” Saxton said.

Not only can the district help landowners find solutions to soil and water issues, but it can often provide funding to help landowners implement changes.

“There is always a cost to changing methods of operation,” Saxton commented.

It can be difficult to convince landowners to support environmental programs because they sometimes deal with societal priorities rather than individual priorities, and demonstrating the benefits can be a slow process. It may take generations to see the results, Saxton explained.

The district can help landowners apply for low-interest loans to purchase new equipment, and can show them how to take advantage of incentive programs to make it easier for them to adopt environmentally-friendly improvements.

The district’s goal is to protect water and soil resources, but it remains sensitive to the concerns of landowners.

“If a person is willing to work with us, we can almost always arrive at a solution,” Saxton said.

Wetland issues are another important topic for the district.

At one time, wetlands were viewed as a sort of wasteland, and farmers saw draining wetlands as a way to gain more tillable acreage, Saxton explained. Today, there are strict federal guidelines governing wetlands.

The district strives to keep landowners abreast of current laws, and it takes a lot of reading for district employees to stay up to date on changing requirements, Saxton said.

To address water concerns, the district has developed a county-wide water management plan.

“We are getting more into water quality testing, and what we are finding is not good,” Saxton said. He explained that there are a number of impaired water systems in the county that are not meeting federal water quality standards. The water management plan provides a framework for improving water quality.

To address the problem of forest lands that are being lost to development, the district sells about 50,000 bare-root trees annually at a cost of about 85 cents per tree to help landowners plant windbreaks and wildlife habitats.

Failing septic systems pose a threat to water quality, and the district can help landowners obtain low-interest loans (about 3.5 percent) to upgrade septic systems. These loans allow landowners to spread the cost of a new septic system over a 10-year period.

In addition to educating landowners, the district began a 5th grade educational field day program in 1979. The goal is to promote the conservation ethic among students. The program has expanded to six days per year and encompasses 60 classes and 1,600 students.

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