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Watershed Council learns about benefits of managed grazing
Coon Creek Community
1_CCCWC_Munsch and great grands
JIM MUNSCH is seen with his great grandchildren, who live on the farm, in the light of the setting sun.

COON CREEK - About 40 people assembled on the farm of Coon Valley managed-rotational-grazing farmer Jim Munsch for a meeting of the Coon Creek Community Watershed Council (CCCWC) on Wednesday, August 3.

2_CCCWC_The Group
A LIVELY GROUP assem-bled at the farm of grass-fed beef farmer Jim Mun-sch for a meeting of the Coon Creek Community Watershed Council. The group included farmers from the Tainter Creek and Bad Axe River watershed councils as well.

Munsch has worked tirelessly in recent years with representatives of the Grasslands 2.0 group and other UW-Madison agricultural scientists to develop tools that help producers who are contemplating switching some of the acres on their farm to managed rotational grazing.

The ‘Compass’ tools help to calculate the economic benefits of the practice in a producer’s farm operation, and the Grazescape tool helps to calculate the benefits for their watershed.

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JIM MUNSCH addressed the group while they ate a delicious sloppy joe dinner provided by Legacy Bar & Grill of Coon Valley.

Munsch talked to those assembled about his history on his farm in rural Coon Valley, his transition to managed rotational grazing, and the economic and watershed benefits of the practice.

“I was born into a family of hog farmers in Indiana that ran 30-40 sows that farrowed and were raised in a field,” Munsch shared. “Back in the ‘40s, NRCS came to our farm just like they came to the farms around here, and I learned a lot about soil conservation, erosion prevention, and protecting streams through that experience.”

Munsch said that the hog business and the farm had passed from his family, and he wound up in college, and in a high-powered corporate job. He said that when he and his wife Phyllis had first bought their farm in rural Coon Valley, he didn’t have plans to become a managed rotational grazer of beef cattle. He said that at first they’d rented out their acres to row crop producers, but decided not to continue that, when he saw the erosion that was happening off the fields.

“In 1980, we bought our first beef cattle, and I started out with permanent pasture, and then went to strips,” Munsch said. “It was about 1991 or 1992 that Extension started promoting managed rotational grazing, and I got interested and decided to give it a try.”

Munsch shared a copy of the results of running his farm operation through the Grazescape tool, and a financial comparison of his costs and profits of using his acres in a variety of production methods.

The Grazescape results, which he referred to as ‘benefits for the watershed,’ showed that soil loss of his Pepin and Seaton Silt Loam soils under corn and bean row crops with spring cultivation and planted on the contour would be 14.75 tons-per-acre-per year (tons/ac/year). He said that this amount of soil, from just one acre, would fill up a large dump truck.

The tons/ac/year for corn and beans produced in a no-till system planted on the contour would be 3.47, for no-till corn and beans on the contour with a small grain cover crop would be 3.16, for no-till corn and beans planted on the contour with a grazed small grains cover crop would be 1.08, and for managed rotational grazing with a daily rotation it would be 0.01.

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RANDY JACKSON, Professor of Grassland Ecology in the Department of Agronomy at UW-Madison, is part of the Grasslands 2.0 team. Munsch has worked closely with the Grassland 2.0 team in development of the ‘Compass’ and ‘Grazescape’ tools.

“It’s not just the erosion that should be thought of in these different systems,” Grassland 2.0’s Professor Randy Jackson pointed out. “The amount of soil being built by these systems also needs to be taken into account.”

Phosphorous loss followed a similar pattern in each system, with the highest loss from corn and beans with spring cultivation planted on the contour of 14.75 pounds-per-acre-per-year, no-till corn and beans 2.97, no-till corn and beans planted on the contour with a small grain cover crop 2.73, no-till corn and beans planted on the contour with a grazed small grains cover crop 0.55, and managed rotational grazing with a daily rotation 0.08.

Stormwater runoff for a rainfall event of two inches or less was relatively similar and low for all production systems, but really started to differentiate with the larger the rain event. For a six-inch rainfall event, stormwater runoff in a corn and beans with spring cultivation planted on the contour was calculated at three inches. No-till corn and beans, no-till corn and beans planted on the contour with a small grains cover crop, and no-till corn and beans planted on the contour with a grazed cover crop were all quite similar, generating around 2-2.5 inches of runoff. Managed rotational grazing with a daily rotation was calculated to produce just under 1.5 inches of stormwater runoff.

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JIM MUNSCH is widely considered to be ‘outstanding in his field,’ and is seen here literally standing in one of the pastures he uses in his beef cattle managed rotational grazing operation.


Next Munsch went on to compare cost of feed in different production systems. The systems compared were dry hay/alfalfa, corn silage, and pasture.

Using your acres for dry hay/alfalfa would yield about 3.7 tons of dry matter/acre (DM/ac), costing about $114.62 per ton of dry matter to harvest, with a pro rated three-year planting cost of $6.49 per ton of dry matter. So total cash cost per ton of dry matter harvested is $121.11. Handling, storage, waste and feeding is calculated at $15 per ton of dry matter, bringing the total cost of a ton of dry matter consumed to $136.11, and the cost of feed per day per animal unit to $1.70.

In a corn silage system, the yield of dry matter per acre was 7 tons, total cost of a ton of dry matter was $111.05, and the cost per day per animal unit, performing a similar calculation, was $1.39. In a pasture, the yield was 2.4 tons of dry matter per acre, the total cost consumed per ton of dry matter was $20.20, and the cost of feed per day per animal unit was $0.25.

His calculations from the ‘Dairy Heifer Compass’ show that the cost per day per head during pasture season is $2.73 in a confinement system, $1.30 if using stored feed, and $0.25 on pasture.

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KEVIN TRAASTAD, Coon Creek Watershed sweetcorn farmer, demonstrates how producers can perform a simple water infiltration test on fields in their farm operation.

Rain infiltration

Watershed council member Kevin Traastad demonstrated to attendees how to perform a simple water infiltration test on the acres in their production system. To do so, he used a foodservice sized aluminum can with the top and bottom cut out, a piece of plastic film, and a bottle containing calibrated amounts of water equal to inches of rain.

“First you take the can and you work it in so it is sitting in the soil, with no plants bent over underneath it to serve as a conduit out,” Traastad said. “Then you place the plastic film inside the can to prevent water from splashing up, and pour one inch of water onto it. Then, with your timer ready to go, you pour the water out of the plastic film onto the ground and then count how long it takes to infiltrate that water into your soil.”

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THE MECHANICS of the water infiltration test use simple, commonly availa-ble materials, and can give a producer a good idea about the capacity of their fields to infiltrate water from rain events.

Traastad said that the experiment can be repeated in the same place with additional inches of water, but that the ground will become saturated, and eventually the rate of infiltration will slow down. In Jim Munsch’s pasture, Traastad calculated based on the experiment that the pastures could infiltrate an inch of water in about three minutes.

In other business

In other business, the group heard

• that on August 10 CCCWC president Nancy Wedwick would make a presentation about the watershed council to the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission, and on August 11 to Wisconsin’s Greenfire

• the sub-committees of the Tainter Creek, Bad Axe River, and Coon Creek Community watershed councils would meet at the Eagle’s Club in Viroqua on August 16 to brainstorm ways to collaborate in applying for producer-led watershed council grant funding for 2023

• there would be a joint meeting of all interested members from the three watershed councils at the Eagle’s Club in Viroqua on September 8, starting at 7 p.m., with a dinner served

• that upcoming CCCWC field days would take place at the farm of Ron Leum on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 10:30 a.m., and at Tucker Gretebeck’s farm in October

• that applications for the groups’ $3,000 in cover crop funding had come from six producers with a total of 229 acres. In order to fulfill the demand, the decision was to reduce the per acre payment for seeds to $25/acre. 

• that the group still has $3,000 in funding available to a producer(s) who wants to transition some acres to a perennial planting, such as a prairie strip on less productive acres at the forest edge

• that the next meeting of the CCCWC will take place on September 7, at the park shelter in Coon Valley, and will be a one-year celebration for the group, with food, a rainfall simulator, and music

• that the evolving partnership with Norskedalen, who is experienced in developing curriculums that satisfy State of Wisconsin standards, will likely be in pursuing grant funding to develop conservation educational materials

• that the Greener Pastures oral history project of the watershed is moving ahead full steam, with collaboration from UW-Madison, and UW-LaCrosse which has agreed to archive any materials generated

• that Vernon County has been granted three scientists to work on their water infiltration study through the Thriving Earth Exchange, with the hope of developing best management modeling for water infiltration and a decision-making guide

• that Monroe County is offering farmers a $2,000 sign-up bonus for the Farmland Preservation Program in the Coon Creek Watershed

• that Organic Valley (OV) is offering cost share grants of up to $25,000 for on-farm solar energy projects through its ‘2022 Driftless Clean Energy’ grant program, with a deadline to apply of September 1, 2022 for Vernon County, and August 1, 2022 through July 31, 2023 for all counties. The grant program is a partnership between OV and Valley Stewardship Network (VSN), with VSN distributing the funding to the farmers. Farmers in Vernon, LaCrosse, Monroe, Richland and Crawford counties are eligible. For more information, contact Kavita Koppa at 608-632-6251 or