Soil Health Practices – Effects on Farm Profitability

Practices to improve soil health, such as no-till and cover crops have been touted for their environmental benefits. But from a business perspective, questions about their impact on profitability have dogged adoption. A new survey by the Soil Health Institute (SHI), with funding from Cargill, found these practices are good for business.

See image from the Soil Health Institute below for the Key Findings of the survey.

Given the current adoption rates of no-till (37%) and cover crops (5%) in the U.S., the study indicates that many other farmers may improve their profitability by adopting soil health management systems. Soil and Water Conservation Districts throughout Minnesota promote soil health programs. In some cases, financial assistance is available locally or through the US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement them.

The full SHI report is available online: www.soilhealthinstitute.org 

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Go Hunting!

Fall hunting season is upon us in Minnesota. Hunting is one of the best ways to sustainably enjoy our State's amazing natural resources. Opportunities exist to harvest game animals ranging from squirrels to birds like grouse, pheasant, turkey, and waterfowl to large ungulates like deer and elk, and even black bear. Minnesota has a rich hunting tradition and some of the most ample public land hunting opportunities in the country! It is easier than ever to learn to hunt with the advent of instructional webinars and social media.

The Minnesota DNR has all of the information and resources you need to get started. You can find season dates, license information, and land access opportunities for all kinds of hunting on their web pages. Social media groups exist for all kinds of hunting around Minnesota, and newcomers can learn from seasoned veterans, some of whom may just be willing to show you the ropes.

If you are interested taking up a new outdoor hobby, creating memories that last a lifetime, and harvesting sustainable, healthful meat, hunting may just be the pastime you've been looking for!

Minnesota hunting fun facts:

  1. Minnesota ranks in the top 10 in the nation for number of resident hunters with over 500,000 licensed hunters annually.
  2. According to the USFWS, Minnesota ranks 5th in ducks harvested and 2nd in geese harvested in the US over the past 10 years.
  3. Minnesota is frequently the #1 state in the US for annual ruffed grouse harvest.
  4. Less than 50 years ago, 29 wild turkeys were reintroduced into MN. Now, the population has grown to over 70,000 birds with turkeys occurring across much of the state.
  5. Minnesota has 23 species of ducks and geese.

Photo below is ACD staffer, Jared Wagner, with his niece.

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Collaborations are Critical to controlling Invasive Phragmites australis throughout Minnesota

Non-native Phragmites is a highly invasive plant that can invade wetlands and shorelines, outcompete native vegetation, and degrade wildlife habitat. Fortunately, most of the infestations in Minnesota are small and there is hope that the invasive grass can be controlled.

Coon Creek Watershed District and ACD staff first detected non-native Phragmites in Anoka County in 2018 along the Ham Lake shoreline. The 2,500 square foot stand was herbicide treated in fall 2018 and mowed in January 2019. No Phragmites was found at the Ham Lake site in 2019 and 2020. One sprout of Phragmites was found in 2021 and dug up.

Additional non-native Phragmites infestations have been found and verified by UMN in Anoka County. The treatment success at Ham Lake inspired staff to continue additional efforts to control non-native Phragmites. In 2019, the Anoka County AIS Prevention grant paid for treatment of 14 additional Phragmites sites that were detected in the 2019 growing season.

The MN Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed grant provided funds for the Metro Counties to collaborate and treat over 80 sites in 2020 and 2021. The University of MN, MN DNR, and MN DOT are also tracking and treating additional sites throughout the state. Sites will continue to be monitored to determine treatment needs.

Photo below shows a stand of Phragmites at a site in Anoka County being monitored in 2020. Follow up treatment occurred in September 2021.

Find more information and distribution maps can be found at the links below:

https://www.eddmaps.org/distribution/viewmap.cfm?sub=59038

https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquaticplants/phragmites/index.html

https://maisrc.umn.edu/phragmites

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Biomonitoring with High School Students

Every spring and fall, staff members from Anoka Conservation District lead several high school classes through a hands on biomonitoring session. These students don waiters, grab a D-net, and wade into the shallow waters of a particular stream or river in Anoka County. They use these nets to scrape rocks, down trees, or vegetation in hopes of finding macroinvertebrates, which are collected. During the classroom potion of this lesson, the students identify and label these macroinvertebrates species. ACD then reevaluates and counts all specimen. The same stream and river locations are sampled almost every year, allowing ACD to monitor any long-term trends in the species found.

Biomonitoring is a useful tool because macroinvertebrates live on the bottom of rivers and streams. During their aquatic life cycle, which can be multiple years, they cope with chemical, physical, and biological influences in their habitat. They are less mobile than fish, making them less able to avoid the effects of these pollutants and changes to aquatic habitats. Macroinvertebrates also have a wide range of pollutant tolerances amongst the various species. The numbers and types of organisms present in a water body reflect the quality of their surroundings. Inventorying the makeup of aquatic communities can help determine if changes in the environment are causing effects such as the loss of sensitive groups of organisms. Macroinvertebrates are also practical and easy to sample, making them perfect for a high school science class. 

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The City of Anoka Selected as Outstanding Conservationist

Each year, Anoka Conservation District (ACD) supervisors consider the work we've done in partnership with landowners, cities, private sector partners, and other organizations to complete natural resources conservation work in Anoka County. The list is distilled down to a single conservation partner who most emulates a conservation ethic put to action. That individual or entity is acknowledged as Anoka County's Outstanding Conservationist. The 2021 Anoka County Outstanding Conservationist is the City of Anoka.

The projects the City of Anoka implemented in partnership with ACD and on their own over the years have demonstrated an enduring commitment to both steward and enjoy our natural resources.

The following list of conservation initiatives completed by, or in partnership with, the City of Anoka demonstrates their breadth of commitment;

  • Donation of a conservation easement to ACD on the 200-acre Anoka Nature Preserve (ANP).
  • Enhancement of 70 acres of forest habitats on ANP with buckthorn control.
  • Sponsoring annual goose hunts at ANP for veterans.
  • Construction of the state of the art stormwater treatment facility at the Rum River boat launch.
  • Installation of several stormwater treatment hydrodynamic separators.
  • Installation of five rain gardens.
  • Stabilization of 300 feet of riverbank at Rum River shores.
  • Stabilization of 1,500 feet of riverbank at Mississippi Community Park
  • Enhancement of bank stability on 350 feet of Rum River shoreline with cedar tree revetments on school property with the city trail easement
  • Enhancement of floodplain forest at Kings Island Park
  • Wetland enhancement at the ANP
  • Subwatershed retrofit modeling and analysis on 1,500 acres of city-scape.

This acknowledgment is part of a larger program, wherein SWCD's from throughout MN submit their outstanding conservationists to the MN Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in nomination for the MN State Outstanding Conservationist. In early December, at their annual convention each outstanding conservationist is recognized during a large banquet whereat they will also unveil the state winner.

Congratulations on this well-deserved award and thanks go to the City of Anoka council and staff for all they have done. ACD staff and supervisors genuinely look forward to partnering with the City of Anoka on projects in the future.

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ACD staff spotted a rusty patched bumble bee at the Blaine Preserve SNA!

Bombus affinis, commonly known as rusty patched bumble bees were once common throughout the east and upper Midwest but its population has recently had a drastic decline. The USFWS listed the rusty patched bumble bee as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Rusty-patched bumble bee worker diagnostic traits:

  • Thorax – black hairs in the shape of a thumb tack
  • 1st abdominal segment – yellow
  • 2nd abdominal segment - Rust colored patch on the middle and front half and yellow on the rear half
  • Remaining abdominal segments – black

Find out how to create habitat for the rusty-patched bumble bee and other pollinators on USFWS, Xerces Society and BWSR websites.

Apply today for an Individual Support Grant by visiting Blue Thumb's website. Applications will be accepted through February 15, 2022.

View Verifiable Observations of Bombus affinis on INaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/121519-Bombus-affinis

USFWS Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Map:

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Tree and Shrub Pruning Basics

Trim up the sides and take a little off the top. I'm going for a well-kempt look without being obvious about it.

No! Not me, my trees.

The best time to prune most trees is in the winter months. To do it well, now is the time to make a mental note of what needs to be done. For example, identifying dead branches is easier during the growing season but pruning should be postponed until the tree is dormant.

Things to Remember:

  1. Remove the right parts - refer to the figure below
  2. Use the right tools.
    • Hire a professional for pruning outside your comfort zone
    • Sharp pruning sheers or pruning saw.
    • A chain saw (and related safety gear) may be needed for large limbs.
    • Safety glasses and gloves
    • A ladder to extend your reach
  3. Use the right techniques.
    • Use three cut method to avoid bark ripping
    • Cut just outside of the branch collar
    • Use the right sized cutting tool for the branch
    • Clean tools with rubbing alcohol between trees or after cutting diseased limbs
    • Properly dispose of diseased or infested wood/brush

Cautions

  • Do not use pruning paint – this will inhibit natural healing
  • Never prune oak trees in the spring and summer as Anoka County is the oak wilt capitol of the world and pruned trees are likely to get infected
  • If the tree is unhealthy, diagnose the cause before pruning
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Supervisor Spotlight: Sharon LeMay

Sharon LeMay, who has been a Supervisor with ACD since January 2017, moved around a lot growing up, from England to Florida, France, Illinois, Texas, Minnesota, and back to England before finally settling permanently in Minnesota. She did not grow up in a family that spent a lot of time outdoors, preferring instead to visit museums, historic landmarks, and read. In fact, one of her first memories of nature was quite traumatic for her as a young girl. While exploring a vacant, wooded city lot, Sharon looked down at her tan corduroy pants and found they were crawling with little spiders, which she only learned later were actually wood ticks! Up to that point, her only experiences with nature involved manicured city parks or sightseeing in short trips. Still, even though recreating in nature was not a core part of Sharon's childhood, she grew up to revere nature and spend much of her free time working and volunteering to be a good steward of the environment.

When she isn't working, Sharon volunteers with several local organizations, including the Master Naturalist program, the MN DNR, and Herbalists Without Borders. She enjoys her studies in homeopathy and making herbal medicines. She also loves hiking, yoga, biking, visiting historic sites and museums, and camping with her husband and dogs.

Sharon's favorite place in Minnesota is the North Shore of Lake Superior. She loves the remote and rugged coastlines of oceans, and the North Shore is as close as it gets to that in Minnesota. She enjoys walking the beaches looking for stones, hearing the waves, smelling the air, or simply sitting on a rock watching the water. In this peaceful place, she is able to reflect on nature as something valuable in its own right, rather than valuable only for what we can do in it or with it. Her love for the environment evolved over time as she came to witness the sacredness of nature, and it culminated in her choice to run for elected office on the ACD Board of Supervisors. 

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Creating a More Resilient Landscape at Kings Island

Anoka Conservation District has been working with the City of Anoka and Mississippi Park Connection to create a more resilient landscape at Kings Island. Efforts have begun to remove invasive buckthorn from the island to allow space and light for native plant regeneration. Invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) infestations that kill ash trees have been detected throughout the Metro region and near Kings Island. Approximately 50% of Kings Island canopy is ash (green, black or white ash) so a loss of ash would have a great impact on the habitat on Kings Island. Surveys have and will continue to be conducted to monitor for the presence of EAB. To prepare for the loss of ash trees and create a more resilient landscape at Kings Island, a diversity of tree and shrubs were planted by volunteers. Species planted include Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), Red-oiser Dogwood (Cornus sericea), Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Cottonwood (Populus deltoids), Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), and Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) a tree with a more southern range. More efforts are needed to control buckthorn and create diversity for a more resilient landscape at Kings Island. 

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Update - Riverbank Stabilization Project Construction in Mississippi River Community Park, Anoka

The riverbank stabilization project in Mississippi River Community Park is underway. Tree clearing, bank reshaping, and riprap installation have been the primary focus at this stage in the construction process.

Future work will include native seeding, erosion control blanket installation, and planting of native shrubs and trees.

The project is funded by a Clean Water Fund grant, a Watershed Based Funding grant, and match from the City of Anoka. Watch for more updates from ACD and the City of Anoka as the project progresses.

Read additional updates on our blog here and here.


UPDATE - October 2021

The riverbank stabilization project in Mississippi River Community Park is nearly complete. Tree clearing, bank reshaping, riprap installation, seeding, and erosion control blanket installation have all been completed. Planting of supplemental bare root shrubs, trees, and dormant live stakes will be completed by the end of November. The project stabilized approximately 1,500 linear feet of severely eroding riverbank.

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Elected Officials Tour Water Management Projects

This month the Sunrise River Watershed Management Organization (SRWMO) hosted a public official's tour of water quality projects. The tour was to show cities who financially contribute to the SRWMO how their dollars are used. It was also an opportunity for multi-city discussion. Thirteen people were present including city council members, town board supervisors, a county commissioner, and SRWMO board members.

Tour visits included a stormwater pond enhancement, curb cut rain garden, lakeshore restoration, and infiltration basin. At three of the sites the owner was present to talk about the problems they had been experiencing and how the project has worked for them. Key information shared included costs, funding sources, and measurements of success.

The Anoka Conservation District (ACD) coordinated the tour. ACD is contracted to coordinate administration and projects for the SRWMO, which otherwise has no staff. The SRWMO and ACD have a 20+ year collaborative relationship that has resulted in dozens of water quality projects. The SRWMO is one of six watershed organizations that cover Anoka County.

Photos:

Top – Linwood Elementary School's principal and teachers describe a rain garden at their school entrance.

Middle – ACD staffer Jamie Schurbon describes how a stormwater pond at Martin Lake was enlarged to better capture pollutants form 24 acres of neighborhood.

Bottom – County Commissioner Jeff Reinert asks Coon Lakeshore owner Rhonda Scheiderich about a lakeshore stabilization and plant buffer (outside of image).

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Fall is a Great Time to Identify Invasive Species

Early fall can be a great time to identify invasive species around your property. Invasive species can potentially outcompete native plants. Controlling invasive species can help increase native plant diversity and create better habitat for local wildlife. It also help stop the spread of invasive seeds to your neighbor's property and other natural areas. The first step in managing invasive species on your property is by identifying them. Three species to look out for this time of the year are:

Canada Thistle is an aggressive perennial that produces many seeds. They are best identified by their wavy spiny/toothed margins that can be prickly if walked through. Most of their purple flowers have turned into a ball of white fluff by this time of year

Purple loosestrife is listed as a MDA prohibited noxious weed that grows along shoreland areas. Purple loosestrife can make it difficult to access open water and the dense root systems can even change the hydrology of wetlands. Leaves are lance-shaped with smooth edges and grow up to four inches long. They are usually arranged in pairs opposite each other on the stem, and rotated 90 degrees from the pair below. Individual flowers have five or six pink-purple petals surrounding small, yellow centers. Single flowers make up flower spikes, which can be up to one foot tall. This is a great time to look for the bright purple flowers along your shore.

Common tansy is also an invasive species that is currently flowering. The flowers are bright yellow and button like arranged in a flat-topped cluster. The leaves look fern like with reddish-brown stems. It is very common invasive species in the arrowhead of Minnesota. This quick spreading species can greatly impact landscape restoration efforts.

You can reach out to ACD if you want to confirm an invasive species on your property or want advice on how to manage the invasive population. 

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Pet Micro-chipping Technology In Carp!

Owners of loved and valuable pets sometimes have a microchip implanted to help recover them if they are lost or stolen. The same technology is now being used to help the Anoka Conservation District remove destructive carp from lakes.

We recently added microchip PIT tags to 187 carp in Typo Lake (Linwood Township). Those carp are now telling us when and proportionately how many carp are visiting baiting stations in the lake. An underwater sensor detects the carp when they are near the bait. A floating, solar-powered control unit uploads that data to the internet. This allows us to spring the nets around the bait at times that are likely to catch the most carp.

Graph: Number of PIT tagged carp visiting baited net stations over 7 days. Note the increase over time and the peak just after midnight. 

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I Used to Mow There … and Now it’s Gone

"See that tree. I used to mow two passes between that tree and the shoreline. Now the tree is in the water." It's a common observation we hear from shoreland landowners. The erosion itself is slow enough that we can't see it immediately. But over time it becomes clear that erosion was happening all along. One measure of land lost is recalling how we used to use an area.

It's striking that the most common measure of erosion is "where we used to mow." Perhaps, it's part of the cause. As a general rule, many grasses have roots as deep as the plant is tall. That means mowed turf has 1-2" deep roots that afford little erosion protection.

As a simple way to slow shoreline erosion, consider an unmowed buffer at the water's edge. It's understood that this may not be feasible in dock, beach, or other active use areas. But in other areas, just let it grow or intentionally plant it with desirable native vegetation. ACD staff can help. Just give us a call.

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Linwood Lakers Trying Out Native Shoreline Plants

"Try it, and you'll like it. The first one's free." A free trial can be just what's needed to break through to new customers. At this year's Linwood Lake Improvement Association annual picnic, the Anoka Conservation District distributed nearly 100 native shoreline plants to be planted all around the lake at around 20 different properties.

Native plants can mean "weeds" to some folks. Or just out of the comfort zone. But the right plant in the right place is beautiful and effective. On shorelines there are a variety of native plants that are the perfect choice –beautiful, strong, and well-adapted to the wet. Good habitat too. They're key to a stable shore and healthy lake.

Thanks to Prairie Restorations, Inc who provided the giveaway plants. ACD offers technical help and grants for those wanting to do a larger shore stabilization or buffer project. 

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