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Farming Near The Cobb River, Minnesota--Pat Duncanson

As told by Pat Duncanson
Blue Earth County, Minnesota

Story Narrative:

"My name is Pat Duncanson. I’m a actually a 5th or 6th generation, depending on how we count, farmer who has raised over 30 crops of corn and soybeans. We also raise livestock in southern Blue Earth county. A hundred years ago on most Minnesota farms, it was about survival. It was about trying to get enough food to get throughout the winter, trying to raise enough that maybe we could afford to send our kids to school so they could go off and have a better life and do something else. It’s really only been recent Minnesota history where farms have been prosperous enough where we can make a nice living for our families, and part of that is because of draining. It really is. Our soils are heavy soils and we are usually blessed with abundant rainfall in the year, and when there is a little bit too much of an abundance becomes a real curse. The drainage allows us to smooth out some of those ups and downs and allows us to get more production off the land so we don’t have to farm as many acres to get the same amount of production. There are hundreds of drainage systems in our county, and that’s repeated in county after county in southern Minnesota, northern Iowa.

Many of them are facing in the next 15 years or so, a need for repair, a need for upgrade. Ditch 57 is a long-established ditch in our community about 100 years old, and was at a stage where parts of it needed repair. So we started working with an engineer to get ideas on how to improve it. Downstream neighbors had some very strong concerns not only the quality of the water, some of the nutrients and some of the pesticides that we put on the farm fields, but also the quantity and the speed of the water as it's leaving the landscape. And we’re about 4 miles or so from the Cobb River where the system outlets. Any time that we are able to slow water down as it leave the landscape, it has an almost always positive impact on water quality. So we began to design a system that would allow us to drain our farms and yet we put in storage structures so that the water would slow down and sit in these storage structures for a few days or maybe a week and then gradually empty out, so that they would be empty for the next rain event.

So, within certain rain events, we are able to have higher drainage capacity and yet our discharge is lower than it was before we made the improvement. So it’s a perfect case of having our cake and being able to eat it too. I am very passionate that drainage needs to be part of our southern Minnesota landscape, but I also realize that it can’t be done like it’s been done for the past hundred years."

This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded by the Minnesota Humanities Center for the Stories from Main Street project, an initiative created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service for its traveling exhibition "Water/Ways."

Asset ID #6671

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