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Advice to farmers: Move away from extensive tilling to improve the soil

Farmers from around the region were given an education on available services and the need to move away from extensive tilling.

Participants in the Monday event at the 40-acre farm of Roger Helgeson near Northfield, connected crops, tillage and trout with soil and wildlife health, and explored the connections between agriculture, conservation, water quality and habitat.

Following presentations, displays illustrated how the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources uses electro-fishing to estimate fish populations and river health, how researchers collect aquatic insects and how insect populations show how clean and healthy streams are. Participants were also shown how farming techniques can create soil that absorbs and captures rain and fertilizers. Less tillage and greater use of cover crops are seen as being more beneficial for the soil.

Brochures featuring cover crop basics were distributed by the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and companies at the event.

Cannon River Watershed Partnership Executive Director Kristi Pursell spoke of the projects the partnership is taking part in, including the watershed cleanup event Saturday at various locations throughout the watershed.

Land O’Lakes Precision Conservation Specialist Spencer Herbert discussed the online Truterra Insights Engine, intended to provide information on where farmers are excelling and where they should adjust management strategies and adopt new practices.

Dundas-area farmer John Becker described his evolution into using cover crops. He started using them in 2012 after previously using conventional tillage. He eventually noticed conventional tillage led to more erosion and has since transitioned to cover crops and strip-tilling.

St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Biochemistry Paul Jackson discussed a Rice Creek watershed study that took place over the last year. Beginning in 2018, area farmers planted cover crops during or immediately after the corn and soybean growing season ended. Last spring’s growing season represented the first full year of the project. Results indicate drainage from a majority of cover crop fields have lower nitrate levels than fields without cover crops.

Dean Thomas said the event was meant to illustrate how better soil practices can prevent erosion and by reducing nitrates in field drainage, improve the water supply.

He noted the need for farmers to plant alfalfa, small grains and other products to diversify their portfolios so they have more economic security.

“If we have healthy soils, we are going to have better water quality,” he said.

To Thomas, extensive tilling presents a problem. He noted tilling is a carry over from previous generations that weren’t familiar with the benefits of cover crops.

“Every time you disturb the soil you’ve disturbed something that’s good,” he said.

Manager wants new restroom building in place by 2020 fair

It’s a topic no one seems to want to address — or deal with: the aging restroom facility at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

But as it has for the past three years, the Rice County Board of Commissioners, during annual budget discussions Tuesday, touched on the dilapidated building. Commissioner Dave Miller, who sits on the Fair Board, looked disgusted with the inaction, while Commissioner Jeff Docken strongly urged his fellow board members to come up with a plan to fix up or even tear down the deteriorated facilities.

“We need to have a plan,” Docken said, noting that it’s been a topic of discussion since the beginning of his first term. That was 2009. “We can’t keep avoiding these problems.”

Fair Manager John Dvorak said that he’s optimistic that after years of kicking the can down the road, next year could finally be the year that new restrooms are in place at the fairgrounds. He hopes to go to the county board in the next few months with plans that could see the new restrooms in place in time for next year’s county fair.

When the restroom building at the heart of the fairgrounds was first built, it was the only freestanding building with restrooms in it. Now, restroom facilities are also available at Gillen Hall, somewhat reducing the pressure on the old restrooms. Dvorak also opens up the restrooms in the Fairgrounds office during fair time to reduce stress further.

Dvorak said that over the years, the restrooms have been significantly modified and deteriorated. He strongly believes that the best, most effective way to deal with the issue is to bulldoze the old building and replace it with a new one.

“It’s best if we start from scratch, get the infrastructure in there the way it needs to be,” Dvorak said. “The new restrooms will hopefully last as long as these lasted.”

Dvorak has said in the past that he’s optimistic such a replacement could more than pay for itself through increased rentals. He said that when he shows the fairgrounds to organizations looking for a place to host a large event, the restrooms are often a sore spot that turns potential renters off.

According to Dvorak, the new restroom building will likely have a similar square footage to the current building. He’s talked with architects that believe the new building might have one or two fewer toilets if it retains the same size, but believes that it would be adequate given the fair’s other restroom facilities.

Although Dvorak hopes to have the new restrooms ready for next year’s fair, he said he wants to make sure they are built to last. He wants the building design to be easy to clean and maintain, and hard to vandalize.

“I don’t want to put it together,” he said. “I want to take enough time to make sure it’s right. If it means it’ll take a little bit longer because we’re going to put up a better building, so be it.”

Lights! Sound! Tousignant recognized with Fine Arts Distinguished Service Award

Mark Tousignant, sound and lighting technician for Faribault High School, is used to doing behind-the-scenes work while performers receive applause.

The tables turned last week when Tousignant accepted the Region One AA Fine Arts Distinguished Service Award. Ken Hubert, former activities director for Faribault Public Schools, nominated Tousignant for the honor. Current Activities Director Keith Badger, Superintendent Todd Sesker and FHS Principal Jamie Bente joined Tousignant for the awards banquet held at the Hubbell House in Mantorville.

“He’s one of those unsung heroes,” said Badger of Tousignant. “He makes things happen and has a career of selfless service to the district … and takes great pride in his work.”

Tousignant grew up with an understanding of light and sound wiring thanks to his dad, who wired coin-operated amusements like pinball machines and his own house. Fifty years ago, as a ninth-grader, Tousignant got his first taste of manning the lights and sounds for stage productions as a member of the FHS stagecraft club. It was a huge commitment for Tousignant, whose responsibilities kept him at school until 9 or 10 p.m. sometimes.

After high school, Tousignant attended Rochester Community College for two and a half years. The pre-electrical engineering program wasn’t his cup of tea per se, but he took from the courses what he found valuable and afterward worked in retail at Mahler Hardware. He eventually moved back to Faribault to work in the lumber business but also found himself installing sound systems .

In Faribault Public Schools specifically, Tousignant has installed sound systems in the pool area, the music departments — with the exception of the orchestra room — and the performing stage at FHS formerly known as the cafetorium. Tousignant remembers this first sound system in the cafetorium as a little amplifier with four connecting microphones that couldn’t be used more than 20 feet from the system.

In the mid-1980s, Faribault Public Schools moved its whole theater program over to the middle school, which at the time offered a better performing stage. Tousignant used his own sound system during those years before the FHS auditorium was built in the late 1990s.

While employed at Chadderdon Lumber the past 28 years, Tousignant has found a way to fit his sound and lighting volunteer work into his schedule. In 1995, he became an official employee of Faribault Public Schools. He’s also shared his technological knowledge and skills with Paradise Community Theatre, Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and occasionally Bethlehem Academy.

Helping out with various projects that require sound and lighting throughout the year, Tousignant said his hours are “a little bit here, and a lot there.” Apart from helping with Faribault Theatre Troupe productions throughout the year, he also provides lighting and sound for band and choir concerts, the Homecoming coronation, and sound set-up for football games at Bruce Smith Field as well as any activity in Nomeland Gymnasium.

Another major part of Tousignant’s role has been set building. The biggest piece he recalls building was a pyramid for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” a structure 48 feet wide and 20 feet tall. Having worked with four FHS theater directors throughout the years, Tousignant has provided light and sound for “Joseph,” among other shows, multiple times.

Light and sound isn’t a one-man job for Tousignant, who also serves as a tech advisor for stage tech students. He guides up to 10 students in the right direction as far as handling the sound and lighting equipment and gets to know them better in the process.

“I just like doing it,” said Tousignant. “It’s fun to help the kids out.”

mikerandleman / By MIKE RANDLEMAN mrandleman@faribault.com 

Bethlehem Academy looks to regain control of the Battle for the Paddle rivalry with Medford. BA won eight in a row in the series before falling 38-20 at Medford in 2018. (Mike Randleman/Faribault Daily News)