July 18, 2024

Montonye to retire from Grant County SWCD

Joe Montonye

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In his  46 years working for the Grant County Soil and Water Conservation District, Joe Montonye says he has gone from carbon paper to computers.

“But a lot of the people in this office don’t know what carbon paper is,” he chuckles.

Montonye was born, and grew up, on a farm south of Morris, graduating from Morris High School. He received a degree in Civil Engineering and Soil and Water Management from the University of Minnesota Crookston, and started working as an intern at the Grant County SWCD offices in 1973. The following spring, he was hired there.

Joe moved to his home on Barrett Lake in 1978 and married Vickie on September 19, 1981. The couple have two children, Kenny, who does technical work for Real Solutions, and Jennifer, who manages a Cheesecake Factory in California. They have one granddaughter.

The concept of government programs to promote soil and water conservation began during the dust bowl under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.  Districts started as demonstration farms and much of what was started then is still being used today.

The Grant County SWCD formed in 1957 as a local government entity that works with private landowners, non-profits, and other government agencies, to facilitate technical and financial help for the conservation of land and water resources. The Grant County SWCD partners with county, state, and federal assets, to bring dollars back to the community for water and soil health.

“We work for balanced land production and for the good of local watersheds,” said Montonye. “We have a close partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture and work together on many projects.”

The SWCD can provide assistance with everything from planting windbreaks and buffer law implementation, to composting and establishing rain gardens. It is governed by a five-member elected board that does not have taxing authority. The SWCD is funded through grants, mostly state Legacy fund grants, and an allocation from Grant County, that comes to $95,000 a year.

A couple of the bigger projects facilitated by the Grant County SWCD are buffer strips, and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Grant County started implementing a buffer strip program as part of its shoreline ordinance in the late ‘90s. Buffer, or filter strips, are 50 to 60 feet of untilled land acting as a buffer between a field and waterway, to filter runoff before it gets into the water. 

Recently, the State of Minnesota added buffer strip requirements to all public waters. While many Minnesota counties had trouble implementing the state buffer strip requirements, Grant County had a good head start and Grant County farmers have pretty much embraced the concept.

With around 25,000 Grant County acres enrolled in the CRP, the SWCD is busy working with landowners on writing up contracts, and a conservation plan for their acres. They also work with the Farm Service Agency, which holds the contracts and makes payments to landowners.

“One thing I have found is that everything comes in cycles, rather it be in business or agriculture,” Montonye said. “Since I started working here, things have become very complex. But human interaction is still a big part of the job, that will never change. It is hard to figure out what is going to work for each person and their land.”

But Montonye said all throughout his career, he has found the farmers he works with in Grant County are easy to work with, good people who care about clean water and healthy soil.

The SWCD office will reassign people in the office to fill in for Joe when he retires at the end of March. 

With Vickie planning to retire from the Elbow Lake Dental Center in May, the Montonyes are looking forward to enjoying their lake home, taking it day by day.  Joe likes to hunt, fish, work on his wood carving and… trap gophers!

“I used to love gopher trapping when I was a kid… I wonder what the bounty is?”

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