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Lessons in lysimeters

Apprentice Josh Chapman (left) worked with Luke Stuewe of the MDA to install lysimeters in a Cass County agricultural field.

Apprentice Josh Chapman (left) worked with Luke Stuewe of the MDA to install lysimeters in a Cass County agricultural field.

In early June, two Conservation Corps summer apprentices collaborated with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and University of Minnesota to install 12 lysimeters on an agricultural field in Cass County. Lysimeters collect water samples underground to measure the amount, flow and nutrient load of water passing through the soil. Apprentices Caleb Ray and Josh Chapman helped install the lysimeters four feet underground ― a depth below root systems but above the ground water level – on land that was recently converted from timber to agriculture, currently planted with soybeans. The lysimeters will help determine the nitrogen load passing through plant root systems into ground water.

Ray and Chapman helped dig trenches, run and lay protective PVC piping and connect the lysimeters to a central monitoring point, working closely with MDA and University staff members who designed and led the installation. The apprentices say they learned a great deal about the technology and its importance as a tool for monitoring localized agricultural impacts on water quality, as well as how it applies to broader issues of agricultural land use and water pollution. They also got an inside perspective on how the various parties ― landowner, MDA and University ― worked together, and they enjoyed the chance to be part of the collaboration. “The opportunity to talk to, work with and learn from professionals is an invaluable experience,” Ray said.

MDA site designer Luke Stuewe praised Ray and Chapman’s work during the day-long installation, telling them: “Both of you were exceptionally helpful. Your attention to detail and willingness to work were obvious from the moment you arrived at the site.”

Ray and Chapman are serving in the summer Conservation Apprenticeship Academy, a Conservation Corps Minnesota program that has placed 37 apprentices in SWCDs throughout the state to learn hands-on skills in managing soil and water resources. They are both serving districts in Central Minnesota, Ray at East Otter Tail SWCD and Chapman at Wadena SWCD.