By: Rhyan Schiker
My apprenticeship with the Lac qui Parle SWCD has transformed to fit many different roles over the past six months. What started as a three-month summer apprenticeship has extended to a six-month term and has now fledged into a full-term position as a Resource Technician and Water Specialist for the county.
My intentions when taking on the apprentice role was to learn as much as I could and then take that knowledge with me when I moved on to my next job, most likely out of state. Over the past half of a year I have learned more than I could attempt to condense into just a few pages but would like to highlight the moments that spiked my desires to stay and work in southwestern Minnesota.
Throughout the summer and fall I have attended many workshops and trainings, each one building a deeper understanding of the state's conservation goals as well as barriers and ways to overcome them. With each subsequent training I felt the pieces coming together. I began to feel more comfortable with the agricultural setting and various conservation practices we perform here at the SWCD.
Trainings and workshops attended:
● AIS workshop at Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC)
● Environmental fair: Groundwater model presentation
● Community Based Social Marketing (2 days)
● BWSR Academy: Maximizing Conservation through Collaboration, Basic Hydrology for Conservation Practices
● Native Prairie plant ID (2 days)
● Effects of grazing and burning on Prairies
● Prairie Reconstruction field day: Planting and managing for diverse prairie reconstruction
● Soil and water management field day
● Soil Health field day-no till practices
● Strip till for field crop production Expo
This aspect of the job means very much to me, as building upon my education is a goal no matter what I task am doing. Being new to this area gave a lot of opportunity for learning and combining the new position with all the educational workshops and trainings made a huge difference in my comprehension of local landscape dynamics and confidence working with them. At the environmental fair I even got to step outside my comfort zone and present the groundwater model to local fifth and sixth graders. They really liked seeing how the dye , that represented pollution, moved through the model and water was pumped through the system.
The two most impactful trainings I attended, although it is hard to choose, would be the Soil Health Field Day and Community Based Social Marketing introductory workshop.
The soil health field day offered presentations emphasizing the dire need to protect your soils as they are the building blocks and life line of all vegetative life, which in turn supports us as humans. We discussed no till and cover crop benefits and heard from members on all ends of the spectrum; producers from small farms, soil scientists, students, and those who practice both no till and conventional tilling methods. This workshop gave me not only an understanding of different processes but also opposing views. It’s easy to think that just because a practice is sustainable that it should be implemented immediately. We also got to observe a rainfall simulator demonstration showing infiltration among different types of soils, no-till, conventional till and with or without cover crops and grazing. It was pretty amazing to see the differences in the way water ran off those field types and how much soil it took with it. This workshop let me observe the different barriers such as costs associated with risk, crop insurance, equipment types and reasons why producers may feel hesitant about switching to no till, crop rotation or cover crop practices.
The Community Based Social Marketing class was designed to help foster sustainable behaviors through a five-step process. Previously information intensive campaigns were believed to be most effective in changing individuals behaviors. This has been found to actually be highly ineffective. Through this two-day class we learned different approaches to working with the public to adopt and implement practices that will help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species throughout the state. It was extremely interesting and has huge potential, it was a very worthwhile two days and I plan to use what we learned during the course over a wide range of conservation topics outside of AIS.
Overall, I believe there is a lot of work that can be done in this area to switch some of the current practices to more sustainable, conservation based options. One of the bigger challenges is getting more folks on board to try them out, and then hopefully through social diffusion others will follow suit. I look forward to being a part of this work and hope to make positive changes to our local environment, which can lead to large scale implications. I am very thankful for the opportunity given to me from the Corps, through this apprenticeship, to kick start this next chapter in my life.