Soil and Water’s new manager has deep local roots
Katie Sommerfeldt leads agency that works with farmers, highway departments and local residents
ALBION – Katie Sommerfeldt has a found a career combining her love for the outdoors, agriculture and science, while working in her home community.
Sommerfeldt, 30, has worked the past 7 ½ years for the Orleans County Soil & Water Conservation District. On Jan. 1, she took over as manager, following the retirement of Dennis Kirby, who remains with the agency in a part-time role.
Soil & Water works to solve drainage issues, and protect water quality and valuable farming soil.
“I like the interactions with the community and the problem solving,” Sommerfeldt said during an interview at her office at 446 West Ave. Soil & Water shares a building with the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Soil & Water’s staff of three full-time employees work with other government agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Conservation, for permits for many of the projects.
Sommerfeldt spent her first 7 ½ years with Soil & Water as a water quality technician. She surveyed and designed many of the projects. She also worked on many of the grant projects, where the state government helps pay for stream crossings, manure lagoon, agrichemical handling and mixing facilities, covered feedlots and other projects that help keep nutrients and chemicals out of the waterways.
Soil & Water currently is working on about $2 million of grant projects. The landowners are paying $1,201,837 towards the work with the state government kicking in $859,513 for the projects.
Sommerfeldt has proven she can juggle the many demands of the position, said John Kast, a member of the board of directors.
“She has impressed us,” Kast said. “She has is good self motivator and she is very personable. She gets along with all of the farmers. She has good relationships with the highway superintendents and landowners.”
Kast praised Dennis Kirby for being a good mentor to Sommerfeldt and helping to prepare her to lead the agency.
Kast Farms has worked with Sommerfeldt and Soil & Water to design and install drainage tile, and to replace a culvert for a stream crossing in Carlton.
Sommerfeldt does some of the preliminary engineering work, which speeds up the timeline for projects, which often need a final stamp of approval from an engineer.
Sommerfeldt is the granddaughter of Fred Sommerfeldt, a beef farmer and owner of Honest Hill Farms on Route 237 in Clarendon.
After she graduated from Albion, she earned a debree in environmental science from Brockport State College. She worked at Intergrow Greenhouses in Gaines during high school and college. She also had a summer job maintaining trail and running the weedwhacker at Hamlin Bach State Park.
Other jobs included working with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets doing a plum pox survey and also for Ag & Markets as an apple quality inspector.
She feels like she has found her calling at Soil & Water, brainstorming ways to clean ditches, design manure storage systems and divert runoff.
Soil & Water is available for free consultation and design for landowners, who have drainage problems. Sometimes that means Sommerfeldt has to negotiate solutions among several neighbors to keep water moving through ditches and culverts.
She also works closely with NRCS and the other agencies, to try to get funding for projects.
Some of the grants Soil & Water currently are working on include:
• NYS Ag Non Point Source, Round 22 Cover Crop grant (for the installation of cover crops on multiple farms throughout the county)
• NYS Ag Non Point Source, Round 23 Covered Feedlot grant (for the installation of a covered feedlot on a beef farm to reduce nutrient runoff when animals are feeding)
• NYS Ag Non Point Source, Round 24 Agrichemical Handling Facilities grant (for the installation of 3 agrichemical handling and mixing facilities, so the farmers have a safe place to mix pesticides and if a spill happens it is contained in the building not running off into the environment)
• NYS Ag Non Point Source, Round 24 Waste Storage grant (for the installation of an earthen manure lagoon at a dairy farm)
• Ten grants through NYS Grown and Certified that will help fund 5 variable tower rate sprayers with sensors, which spray where fruit trees are and not in lanes and open space; 4 micro-irrigation drip lines for apple orchards; and one agrichemical handling facility.