Soil & Water Conservation board awards $355,855 in wellhead grants

By Charis Prunty
Contributing Writer

Eighteen farmers spread throughout Pipestone, Rock and Lincoln counties will receive grants totaling $355,855 for Soil Health Wellhead projects, following a vote of the Pipestone County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) Board on Thursday, March 9.

Nicole Schwebach, technician for the SWCD, reminded the board that an application put together by Pipestone, Lincoln, Nobles and Rock counties was approved last fall to receive money from Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund. The state provided $282,750 so these soil health wellhead grants could be created locally.

Many farmers have shown interest in the grants over the last several months. Grant requests submitted by farmers within these four counties ranged from $7,500 to $50,000 apiece. Each farmer who applied for the grant worked with SWCD staff to create a three-year game plan for how they would use the funds, season by season, in a way that benefits soil health near a wellhead.

“It was very interesting, too,” said Kyle Krier, SWCD administrator, “because I worked with some, Nicole worked with some, Rock County worked with some; every producer was different. I mean, no one wanted to do the same thing.”

“They all had different ideas of what worked for them, what didn’t work for them, and why did they want to do one practice over the other practice,” Schwebach added.

The 18 contracts farmers signed for these projects exceed the money received from the Clean Water Fund. If only that amount was to be distributed, five of the projects would not have been funded.

So, SWCD staff worked to prioritize the requests, which Schwebach said was difficult. They did so based on Drinking Water Supply Management Area (DWSMA) vulnerability (i.e., how likely it is that contamination in the DWSMA can reach the public water supply intake) and proximity of the project area to its nearest supply well. Those with highest vulnerability and closest proximity were deemed highest priority.

“Some people only have 40 acres, some people have a whole section involved with their project,” Schwebach added. “It really doesn’t matter, too much, what land people have. It just matters where the project falls.”

Krier said some of the projects that were classified as lower-priority were for first-time cover crop growers. He felt that it would be helpful to fulfill these grant requests so that the growers would continue experimenting with cover crops and use them in the future.

“There’s some people within the low priorities that are going to lose out, that are truly doing the first-time cover crop trials,” Krier explained. “So, we’re thinking that by eliminating them, we’re going to lose some potential candidates to start trying doing cover crops.”

SWCD staff recommended to the board that all grant requests be funded by pulling money from other sources for the final five projects. Nearly all of this, $72,800, could come from state funding to SWCD that was leftover from 2022.
Chairman Cal Spronk commended the staff for their work on the project.