DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Marsha Watland received the award for being Minnesota’s Outstanding Agricultural Inspector for 2019 at the Minnesota Association of County Agricultural Inspectors annual banquet last July. Watland has been the Becker County Agricultural Inspector since 2006. Prior to becoming the CAI in this northwestern Minnesota county, she worked in agriculture education, agricultural retail and wholesale sales, and as a business owner.
One of the reasons Watland, who works under the umbrella of the Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District, received the award was her leadership in developing and advancing programs to certify gravel and borrow pits as weed free.
“The certification program began in 2008 because a county in North Dakota wanted to certify as weed free pits that were sending gravel from Becker County to North Dakota,” she said. “The original goal was to buy gravel with a reduced seed bank so as to reduce maintenance costs and the spread of both invasive and noxious weeds throughout Becker County.”
Watland says the gravel pit certification program has had a positive impact on weed control in the county. This is especially true for weeds such as Spotted Knapweed.
“That seed has a viability of seven years and each year that Spotted Knapweed is controlled it reduces the seed bank in a pit,” she said. “The results have been great. Gravel pits provide an excellent environment for weed seed that is then easily moved down township, county and state roads. The certification program for gravel pits adjusts timing and the method of treatment for prohibited noxious weeds. The first year that Gravel Pit Certification was implemented in Becker County there were no weed complaints for pits and gravel pits appreciated knowing the timing of treatments. That allowed the pits to keep product moving.”
Watland isn’t the only one who feels the results of the gravel pit certification have been great.
“You really don’t have to go far — you literally can drive across county lines — to see the difference that her efforts make,” Peter Mead, the District Administrator for the Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District, told the Becker County news service dl-online. “Both her passion and knowledge are real assets to the county. She’s one of a kind.”
Aimee Duchene, the agricultural inspector for neighboring Otter Tail County, nominated Watland for the Outstanding Agricultural Inspector. Duchene lauded Watland for both her gravel pit certification program as well as her broader work as county agricultural inspector in her letter of nomination.
“Marsha runs a very active agricultural inspection program and has established a solid weed inspection and seed sampling program in her county,” Duchene wrote. “She is very successful at encouraging collaboration and achieving positive weed management outcomes.”
Since weeds don’t respect borders or county lines, one of Watland’s collaborative focuses has been creating a Cooperative Weed Management Area that has federal, state, city, township and county agencies working hand-in-hand with landowners to control the spread of noxious and invasive weeds.
“In 2017, Meadow Knapweed, a Minnesota Prohibited Eradicate weed, was found at intersection State Highway 34 and County Hwy 39,” Marsha said. “Once identified, I contacted Minnesota Department of Transportation, the county highway department, townships and adjacent landowners. All the landowners were contacted and a treatment was approved. Five days later, MNDOT came in with their equipment and treated the site. Without the CWMA, this process would have taken a lot longer and timing for treatment would not have been as effective.”
Watland takes a collaborative approach to working with townships and private landowners as well.
“I work with townships on weed tours,” Marsha said. “I don’t use field scouts. The townships and cities are required to have local weed inspectors who attend a training in March to go over their responsibilities and work on weed identification.”
The local weed inspectors are authorized to send out weed notices to land owners who have a weed problem. So is Watland. However, she doesn’t necessarily use the official notice process when she first receives a complaint.
“When I receive weed complaints I do not automatically send out a legal Minnesota Noxious Weed Notice,” she said. “I verify that there is a weed issue and work with the LWI a lot of the time. Part of what I do is education because these new weeds are tough to control. Actual landowner contact results in better compliance.”
Treating landowners with respect and working with them also comes into play when farmers are considering applying conservation practices for their farm.
“Raising cover crops, for example, should not create a weed issue — especially if it is a program through the NRCS in Becker County,” Marsha said. “This is where the Cooperative Weed Management Area comes into play. The NRCS is a partner in that and when a practice such is cover crops is planned, the preparation of the site is very important to reduce issues with weed control.”
Watland’s willingness to work respectfully with land owners and collaboratively with other agencies to get at the root of the noxious and invasive weed problems in Becker County is definitely an award-winning combination, according to her colleagues in Becker County and across Minnesota.