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Tainter Creek Watershed farmers make plans for 2020
cows grazing
Pasturing cattle has been shown to be protective against streambank erosion, be an effective way to disperse nutrients, and contributes to animal health and reduced veterianary costs in agricultural operations.

TAINTER CREEK WATERSHED - The farmers of the Tainter Creek Watershed Council went ahead with their regular business meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9. Cancelled was the presentation by UW-Stevens Point staff from the Center for Watershed Science and Education. Earlier that day, freezing rain had caused much traffic mayhem and madness throughout the area, and similar conditions prevailed in Stevens Point, resulting in cancellation of the scientists’ travel plans. 

The presentation scheduled that same evening for the West Fork Neighbors was also cancelled, and has been rescheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13. The presentation for the West Fork will take place at 6 p.m. at Nature Nooks Retreat, S4878 County Road S, Viroqua, WI 54665. The presentation for the Tainter Creek Watershed will take place at 7:30 p.m., at the Franklin Town Hall in Liberty Pole.

The next meeting of the Watershed Council will take place on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Franklin Town Hall in Liberty Pole.

Cover crops

Berent Froiland, chair of the cover crop sub-committee reported that the number of farmers and acres signed up for under the cover crop funding was less than the full amount available. The sub-committee had decided to allow farmers already signed up to claim payments for more acres if they had planted more. 

The sub-committee also encourages members to let other farmers who may have planted cover crops know about the available funding. Froiland reports that checks for cover crop plantings will be issued by the end of January.

VSN update

Valley Stewardship Network’s Matt Emslie introduced Monique Hasseman, who is a new VSN employee who works as a Watershed Planner. Hasseman’s position is funded in part by VSN and in part by the Vernon County Land Conservation Department. She shares her time between the two offices.

Hasseman’s work at VSN involves support for the Wallace Center Grazing Initiative. She partners with Matt Emslie on promotions and outreach for the program, and also supports the work of grazing specialist Jim Muensch in ‘whole farm planning’ with mapping. 

At Vernon County, her work involves watershed modeling for best management practices. Her work focuses mainly on the Bad Axe and West Fork Kickapoo River Watersheds. She is also working on mapping of flooding problem areas going back to the 2007-2008 floods to support better informed decision-making about defining priorities for seeking grant funding for installation of high impact conservation practices.

Hasseman made a few announcements on behalf of VSN:

• VSN still has funding available to help farmers attend the upcoming GrassWorks Conference – the funding will pay for mileage, hotel and meals

• VSN is holding a monthly series of ‘Conservation on Tap’ events, occurring the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Rooted Spoon in Viroqua

Grazing project update

Grazing consultant Jim Muensch reported that since the group last met, he had been out on seven farm visits. The farmers involved have a variety of interests, ranging from conversion of cropland to pasture to farmers already pasturing who want to improve their operations.

“About half of the farmers I’ve met with are looking for financial help to install fencing or watering systems,” Muensch said. “The other half just seem to want to pick my brains.”

Muensch reported that Monique Hasseman had accompanied him on a farm visit with an organic producer who is interested in improving his pasture. He said the two had also recently completed development of a farm visit checklist at the request of the Wallace Center. The checklist will be used for ranking project priority.

“The real challenge we’re facing is people who own land and want to convert the land to grazing, but don’t want to own animals,” Muensch said. “Our task is to match those landowners up with graziers who need more land.”

Muensch explained that at this time, if a landowner has fences, water, and a place to load and unload animals, then there is a big demand.

“Dairy and grain farming are both under pressure right now, and this is leading to lower demand for land rentals,” Muensch said. “The prices for pasture rental are starting to mimic the prices we’ve seen in the last decade for grain farming.”

Hasseman talked about the different kinds of mapping that are available through the county for landowners thinking about making changes on their acres.

“My job at the county is to provide maps for landowners who are interested in installing conservation practices,” Hasseman explained. “Available maps include aerial property maps, soil maps, LIDAR digital elevation maps, and we can also add in a contour map layer.”

In response to a question about what the going rental rates are for pasture land, Muensch responded that it varies, depending on the quality of the infrastructure available at the site. Generally, he said, the rule of thumb is that for a cow-calf pair you can ask about one dollar per day per head. He said these rates would vary with different types of animals and the amount of forage they require.

“This program is essentially like ‘EQIP Lite,” Muensch explained. “The funding available through us allows you to do some of the same things that the EQIP program does, but it is less rigid about the specifications and it is quick and efficient.”

2020 education events

Chuck Bolstad reported that Duke Welter from Trout Unlimited had expressed interest in repeating the successful ‘Free Fishing Day’ event that the watershed had held for the last two years. There was broad agreement that the farmers wanted to continue that event in partnership with TU. It was agreed that the event, to be held on Saturday, June 6, would be held at the Erickson farm.

There was agreement that members should come to the next meeting of the council prepared to brainstorm ideas for additional 2020 education events.