West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District celebrates 75 years

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Brad Mergens, right, presented the 2019 Conservationist of the Year Award to Adam Fronning. He and his wife, Ashley, farm near Underwood. Tom Hintgen/Perham Focus

FERGUS FALLS -- Many county residents, on Aug. 7, gathered at the West Otter Tail Fairgrounds near Fergus Falls to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

The starting year was 1944, at first including 15 townships in Otter Tail County. Today there is both a West and East Soil and Water Conservation District in the county.

The mission of the west and east SWCDs in Otter Tail County, who work jointly on many projects, is to promote the wise and proper use of all natural resources within the districts.

“We strive to achieve this goal for the economic, environmental and aesthetic betterment of all residents,” said West Otter Tail SWCD Manager Brad Mergens.

During the 75th anniversary celebration, Mergens presented the 2019 Conservationist of the Year Award to Adam and Ashley Fromming who farm near Underwood.


The history of the West Otter Tail SWCD was addressed by Chris Schuelke, executive director of the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

“The U.S. Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act in April 1935, during the Great Depression and when there was a severe drought across the United States,” Schuelke said. “This was nine years before the establishment of the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).”

Schuelke noted that in 1955 the State Soil Conservation Field Day, called Plowville, was held at the Trosvik Farm 4 miles north of Rothsay.

Theo Hegseth, one of the first appointed SWCD supervisors, served for 34 years.

By the 1960s the first technicians were on the payroll of the SWCD. Groundwater and irrigation became an increased interest in the district.

In 1979 the Minnesota State Legislature appropriated $3 million for the money to be paid to landowners for installing conservation practices. There were projects for windbreaks, diversions and animal waste control systems.

Today, several SWCD services are provided. They include the following:

  • Tree sales, tree planting and matting installations

  • Native grass and wildflower seed sales

  • Erosion control practices

  • Custom native grass seeding

  • Custom mowing and conservation practices

  • Stream bank stabilization

  • Lakescaping

  • No-till drill rental

  • County agricultural inspector

  • Conservation technician assistance

“Tons of soil and water have been saved during the life of the SWCD the past 75 years,” said county commissioner John Lindquist, of Dalton. “All of Otter Tail County is grateful for your efforts.”
Current staff, current board members and past supervisors were recognized.


“Each of them,” noted Lindquist, “have strived to help county landowners care for the land in a collaborative way and maintain a good environment for future generations.”

Prior to the ceremony, indoors at one of the county fair buildings, an outdoor demonstration was coordinated by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of USDA.

District Conservationist Penny Doty, assisted by Cassie Jacobson, used a rainfall simulator to show the effects of runoff and infiltration with samples of soybeans, corn and pasture. Also emphasized was crop rotation for soil protection.

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