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Winona SWCD marks 75 years in 2013

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 07/08/2013 2:41 PM

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LEWISTON, Minn. — Clint Dabelstein was Winona County's Aldo Leopold.

Dabelstein, who began farming in the county's Pleasant Valley in 1919, is credited with being the driving force behind the state's first Soil Conservation District.

It was largely because of his efforts that the Burns-Homer-Pleasant Soil Conservation District was formed in 1938.

His efforts and the efforts of other conservation pioneers are being recognized this year as the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District marks 75 years.

Present-day Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor Mark Zimmerman lives on the ridge above where Dabelstein's farm was located.

A lot of soil has been saved because of the soil conservation districts and the voluntarily implementation of conservation, Zimmerman said. It's those practices that have kept Winona County soil from washing down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Winona County's father of conservation was determined not to let good farmland erode, according to a history of the Winona County SWCD. Dabelstein was born in the county and decided that the land had had enough. He was tired of watching the erosion.

Largely because of his determination, the Soil Erosion Service started a three-year demonstration project in the county. Tree planting, terracing and strip cropping began and showed almost immediate differences with unprotected land.

Today's SWCD supervisors carry on Dabelstein's heritage.

At their meeting last week, they talked about native buffers and cover crops, a feedlot fix and continued erosion.

It's their role to protect the natural resources of their fragile landscape, which includes karst typography, steep landscapes and prized trout streams, said chairman Jim Riddle.

They promote diverse systems of agriculture and provide assistance to landowners who want to diversify, he said.

Their role is to keep soil in place, said supervisor Paul Schollmeier. That role has become even more important because more people are leasing land and may have less connection with the land.

Yet, the SWCD isn't regulatory. It must do its work with willing landowners. They provide financial incentives and education, a priority for Zimmerman.

It's important to talk about cover crops, it's important to control erosion. It's important to inform farmers of the consequences of certain farming practices, he said.

His goal is to develop educational programming for the community. They will have a presence at Family Night on the Farm at Greden's Ponderosa on June 27 and will hold their July 10 regular meeting at the Winona County Fair. They will have a nitrate testing clinic from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. in the Entertainment Tent and a history display.

The conservation practices put in place in the county have changed greatly in the past 25 years, let alone the past 75, said Daryl Buck, Winona SWCD district manager.

Early projects included sheet erosion prevention, reforestation and check dam development. Twenty-five years ago, they'd put in hundreds of acres of contour strips annually.

Now, they put in five to 10 acres a year of contour strips. Many older contours have vanished from the landscape.

The county is losing more hay ground as farmers sell cattle and switch to row crop production, said supervisor Leo Speltz. There are fewer contour buffers, once seen all over the county and used to control erosion.

Now, the Winona SWCD does a lot of grade stabilization structures and feedlot work. They work with USDA on Conservation Reserve Program signup and Reinvest In Minnesota easements.

They work with Winona County, cities within the county and the Department of Natural Resources. They provide technical assistance.

The SWCD also promotes tree and native prairie planting, Riddle said, to meet their dual role of preventing soil erosion and protecting water from contamination.