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WCROC named Outstanding Conservationists in 2011

STEVENS COUNTY - Stevens SWCD is proud to honor the University of Minnesota's West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) in Morris. The Research Center staff care for 1,100 acres of crop and pasture land and conduct research and education programs in dairy, swine, renewable energy, horticulture, water quality, and crop production. The Center is an integral part of the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences.

Scientists at the Center conduct research in the areas of native grass biomass, odor control with biofilters on swine barns, composting livestock mortalities, conservation tillage for row-crop production, and water quality testing of agricultural field and storm water run-off. They have cooperated with NRCS and North Dakota State University on the evaluation of woody plant materials research for over 30 years.

The dairy herd at WCROC is split into certified organic and conventional herds that are both rotationally grazed on 400 acres of certified organic pasture. The WCROC uses cows to harvest grass from perennial pastures which help reduce runoff and help stabilize soil structure. Perennial pastures are particularly well-suited to the rolling landscape of the Center. Many dairy and grazing projects are conducted in cooperation with university researchers in St. Paul, staff at the Land Stewardship Project, and NRCS.

The Renewable Energy project focuses on three primary areas: wind, biomass, and solar. The commercial wind turbine located on the Center will soon be generating anhydrous ammonia from wind-generated electricity and atmospheric nitrogen. This effort will help reduce the fossil fuel demands of intensive agriculture. In the area of biomass research, the Center is studying biomass as a local energy source that can protect soil. This research work strives to understand subtle changes in soil organic carbon and how these changes relate to productivity of the land while satisfying energy needs and conservation goals. The University of Minnesota, Morris and the USDA ARS research laboratory in Morris are partners in the Center's biomass research.

Swine scientists at WCROC work closely with agricultural engineers from the St. Paul campus to study biofilters attached to confinement swine production facilities. Biofilters are beds of organic media that house microbes which consume odor-causing compounds. Biofilters have been proven effective in scrubbing objectionable odors from exhaust air and can reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the area of water quality, the WCROC has been working on several projects with Discovery Farms on monitoring flows of runoff from agricultural lands used to produce corn and soybeans. In some cases, runoff water is routed through a biofilter to capture nitrogen and improve water quality. This work also involves study of various conservation tillage practices that effectively reduce soil erosion and conserve soil nutrients.

Horticultural efforts at the Center have included a plant materials research project in cooperation with NRCS for over 30 years. Plant materials used in this project are trees and shrubs natural to Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota which have been evaluated as potential components of farmland windbreaks. After years of tracking survival and growth of the various species, proven selections were given a name and released for use on private farms. In addition to the plant materials evaluation projects, the Stevens SWCD has planted several windbreaks for the station over the years. The latest windbreak was completed near the horticulture gardens in 2009.

The Horticulture program is also working with the city of Morris and the Urban Forestry program on the St. Paul campus to evaluate a gravel-bed system for developing bare-root trees that are destined for city re-forestation projects. The gravel-bed system helps develop a more vigorous root system in trees before transplanting.

Congratulations to the West Central Research and Outreach Center for their many research projects focused on the protection and conservation of our natural resources. The WCROC will receive their award as Outstanding Conservationist at the Minnesota Association of Conservation District State Convention in Bloomington on December 6, 2011.