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Hakanson hired to work on agricultural programs for Cannon River Watershed Partnership

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 03/28/2013 8:59 PM

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NORTHFIELD, Minn. —A St. Paul native has returned to his home state to work on water quality issues.

Karl Hakanson began his duties as agriculture program coordinator at the Cannon River Watershed Partnership in early February.

Hakanson had lived in Baraboo, Wis., for 20 years. He went to college at the University of Wisconsin in River Falls and worked for University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, University of Wisconsin in Madison and the Extension in Sauk County, Wis. He also worked with Resource Conservation and Development Councils.

He has inherited three grant-funded projects at the Cannon River Watershed Partnership.

The first is the FarmWise program. FarmWise is a partnership between the Freshwater Society, the National Park Service, the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and local farmers and other agricultural professionals.

It is funded by The Mosaic Company Foundation.

The FarmWise effort in Rice County focuses on Spring Brook, a sub-watershed of the Cannon River and the only trout stream remaining in the county.

Hakanson is working with a handful of farmers on the project to guide farmer-led conservation efforts. He's the facilitator and the farmers are leading the project.

The Spring Brook watershed contains 4,128 acres and is impaired for E. coli, nitrates and turbidity. About 84 percent of the land in the watershed is agricultural.

Rice County has increasing urban pressure as well. With urbanization comes pavement, roofs and parking lots. The water leaving these surfaces is warm.

Cold water holds more oxygen and is preferred by brook trout, Hakanson said.

Their goal is to keep soil covered. Some of the ideas broached by farmers in the group include conservation tillage, strip till, no-till, buffers, cover crops and controlled drainage.

He hopes to put in research plots this summer and then do outreach and education events.

Farmers tend to pay more attention to what their neighbor is doing, Hakanson said.

The group will also be able to draw on the skills of St. Olaf students enrolled in the environmental studies program. They will be doing research on a topic that farmers find useful. That topic will soon be selected.

The research will ideally be simple, field scale and easy to replicate, he said.

They will learn together the best way to keep streams clean and fields healthy.

"Look, we're all in this together," Hakanson said.

The second project is the Lower Cannon River Turbidity Reduction Project. This project focuses on the Lower Cannon and Belle Creek.

Partners include the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, University of Minnesota and Goodhue County Soil and Water Conservation District.

They have studied the stream and generated data and are developing a farmer council. These farmers lead the project, Hakanson said. The data helps pinpoint areas where pollution stems from.

The third step is to develop a plan.

"You might call it the neighborhood approach," Hakanson said.

He'll start with a half dozen farmers who are willing to host projects and then generate results they will share.

The success of the program is dependent on finding interested farmers who see the bigger picture of saving soil, increasing organic matter and improving soil health; farmers who are scientists, interested in experimenting and innovating.

In the end, it's about saving resources. Farmers don't want to lose the chemicals and other inputs they paid for, he said.

The third project, "Cultivating Conservation in the Cannon River Watershed" is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Walton Foundation.

It is the simplest to describe, but perhaps the most difficult to carry out. His task is to work with farmers and landowners interested in enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Program, continuous CRP, Reinvest in Minnesota and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

He's getting to know FSA and NRCS folks in the watershed, asking how he can help them do what they do.

The goal is to target critical areas to create wildlife habitat. The goal is to target new land and keep land enrolled.

He's struggling with how to reach absentee landlords and find people who may be interested in these conservation programs. He can help with the paperwork required for enrollment.

The goal of all three programs is a cleaner watershed for all.

"The bottom line is we're all in this together and we're starting right now," Hakanson said.