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Cotter honored for conservation at state event

Mower County farmer and soil-health advocate Tom Cotter received state recognition Thursday for his conservation efforts that benefit wildlife and soil health at a 2020 Pheasant Fest kickoff in Minneapolis.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen honored Cotter for his participation in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), including earning all three of the program’s new endorsements announced in December for wildlife, soil health and integrated pest management.

Cotter, the first in Minnesota to get MAWQCP’s soil-health certificate, was one of two people honored Thursday by Petersen for the wildlife endorsement.

The event was a pre-summit to the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic, the nations’ largest upland-themed event that is a tradeshow and convention for upland hunters, landowners, bird dog lovers, wild game cooking enthusiasts and wildlife-habitat conservationists. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever organize the event that runs Friday to Sunday.

Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson said it is well-deserved recognition for Cotter, a fourth-generation farmer who has done a lot locally as well as across the state and beyond. 

“Tom is a great ambassador for wildlife, sustainable ag, cover crops, soil health, clean water, community leadership and much more,” Hanson said. “Mower SWCD is grateful for his efforts and our ongoing, working relationship.”

In December, MAWQCP launched three endorsements in addition to the 10-year certification it provides to qualifying farmers and landowners. The endorsements are available to the program’s water quality-certified producers.

Certified producers who achieve an endorsement receive an additional sign for their farm along with recognition for their conservation excellence. Interested producers and landowners in Mower County should contact Mower SWCD.

Cotter, who raises a variety of crops and runs a cow/calf beef operation just outside of Austin, continues to be one of those producers going “above and beyond,” Hanson said, not only on his land but also in public, including given dozens of presentations in recent years to groups of all backgrounds about soil health and cover crops.

In 2016, Cotter and his late father, Michael, were honored as Mower SWCD’s Outstanding Conservationists of the Year. That same year, the Cotters were among four farm families in Mower County to be the first to get certified through MAWQCP, with a recognition event hosted on the Cotter farm.

In 2017, Tom Cotter joined fellow Austin-area farmer Tom Finnegan in doing extensive outreach under a 2017 Cover Crop Champion grant in coordination with Mower SWCD. Both are beef producers who use cover crops on their cropland.

Since then, Cotter annually does extensive outreach focused on cover crops and other soil-health practices, including a winter tour of “Cover Crops 101” classes and other speaking engagements across the state and region. His next free “Cover Crops 101” session is 1-3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the courthouse in Albert Lea hosted by the Freeborn Soil Health Team.

Mower county farmers and landowners interested in a MAWQCP endorsement or becoming water quality certified should contact Mower SWCD’s Alex Block at 507-460-4579 and alex@mowerdistrict.org.