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Energized Tainter Creek Watershed farmers move forward
BRYAN PARR, AGRONO-MIST with Legacy Hemp, attended the meeting of the Tainter Creek Water-shed Council to talk about the opportunities for local farmers to grow hemp. The meeting took place at the farm of LaVon Spanky Felton.

CRAWFORD AND VERNON COUNTIES - It was a pumped up, invigorated group of 20 farmers from the Tainter Creek Watershed Council that gathered in the machine shop on council member LaVon ‘Spanky’ Felton’s farm on Monday, Aug. 13. 

Of course, they couldn’t resist sharing their enthusiasm and ideas for putting what they learned at the recent Ray Archuleta, ‘Reducing Costs & Flood Impacts on the Farm’ event into practice. The group also discussed awarding cover crop installation funds and a well water testing initiative.

Make it practical

Watershed council members expressed wide agreement that they had many eye-opening experiences at the Ray Archuleta education event. Some of the farmers have already had experience in planting cover crops, while others are launching into it for the first time this growing season. 

None could resist the opportunity to swap ideas, stories, and even make plans to share planting equipment. All agreed that in order to grow adoption of the beneficial management practice, their group needed to help by experimenting, and showing others how to make it as practical as possible.

“Seeing the results of rainfall on differently managed soils was the big epiphany for me,” Brian McCulloh said. “It made me realize why I was having some of the problems I’m having with my crops. The rain falls, but it’s not getting into my soil – it’s just running off.”

McCulloh says he plans to put in 90 acres of cover crops this fall. Like everyone else, McCulloh was open in talking about his prior attempts, and what worked well and what had failed,

“Part of the process here, boys and girls, is we’re all gonna have to swallow our foolish pride as we experiment with cover crops in our farm systems,” Brian McCulloh said. “When we succeed, our neighbors are going to be impressed. And when we fail, they’re going to notice. That’s just part of the game.”

Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn counseled council members that to really figure out how to successfully employ cover crops in farm systems, it takes four to five years of persistence. Based on the broad range of reasons group members had for wanting to use cover crops, and the diversity of application and seed mixes they were considering, the group agreed that they would encourage a diversity of approaches this growing season for the cover crop funding they award.

“All the experts, thinking mainly of winter rye, say you should plant by September 15,” Wojahn said. “The reality is we don’t always get killing frosts any more by the second or third week of September, and we’ve heard stories today about people planting as late as into December and having it work.”

The group agreed they would set the window for planting of cover crops paid for with the group’s funding as “by the end of 2018.” The funds will be awarded in waves, based on when people sign up. The process is to notify Cover Crops Subcommittee Chair Berent Froiland, 608-391-0570,, of your interest in accessing the cover crop funding from the group. The acres planted must be located within the Tainter Creek Watershed.

The group’s funding from the DATCP Producer Led Watershed Council grant allows for a total of 500 acres at $27 per acre to be installed. While most agree this dollar amount won’t cover the whole cost, it will certainly help to defray the expense. After the acres have been planted, the producer will notify Berent Froiland. In turn, he will notify the Vernon County Land and Water Conservation Department (LWCD), which will cut the check.

Well water testing

Two members of the UW-Stevens Point Center for Watershed Science and Education (CWSE) attended the Ray Archuleta event. Those two were Gays Mills’ own Paul McGinley, and Jessica Haucke, who graduated from Kickapoo High School. The two will be part of the team of three that will manage the Tainter Creek Watershed well water testing project.

“We budgeted $5,000 for the project from the grant funds, thinking that each test would cost $300, and we would pay $250 and ask for a $50 co-pay,” Well Water Testing Committeemember Chuck Bolstad told the group. “Now, based on the numbers UW-Stevens Point has given us, we can get both the Homeowners and the Metals tests for about $100, which means that instead of testing 20 wells, we can test 50.”

The group plans to pay $100 per test, to collect the samples, and drive them up to Stevens Point. Participating well owners or renters will be required to pay a $25 co-pay. 

All test result specifics will be completely confidential, and this winter members of the UW-Stevens Point CWSE will travel to the area to provide a watershed education event about the general, watershed-wide results of the testing. They will also be available to consult with individual well owners to explain their results, and help them plan any needed abatement strategies.

Bruce Ristow and Chuck Bolstad will lead the efforts to collect and deliver the water samples. Anyone with a well in the Tainter Creek Watershed that is interested is encouraged to contact Sarah McDowell at the Vernon County LWCD, 608-637-5480,

The group plans to send out a postcard to all well owners in the watershed to encourage them to participate. The postcard will advertise that well owners have the opportunity to get the “$150 retail value for only $25.”

There was discussion about allowing individuals outside the watershed to pay full price and have their water sample “ride along.” The group decided that the logistics for the volunteer team conducting the sampling and transport would be challenging enough, without starting to add on samples from outside the watershed. One participant reminded the group that the deadline to apply for next year’s DATCP grants is coming up on Sept. 17. 

“If people in other watersheds would like to have access to water testing like this, they should form a watershed council and apply for the grant funds,” Wojahn said.

2019 grant proposal

Brian McCulloh pointed out to group members that the person from DATCP who administers the  watershed council grant program, Rachel Rushman, had attended the Ray Archuleta event. 

“She seemed to be favorably impressed with the event we offered with the funds, and the large number of participants it attracted,” McCulloh observed.

The group appointed a Grant Subcommittee composed of Karen Bolstad, Bruce Ristow, Berent Froiland, Matt Emslie of Valley Stewardship Network, and Ben Wojahn. The subcommittee will meet on August 23, and has been empowered by the larger group to “just submit the grant.”

In a brainstorm about items they would like to see funded in 2019, the group agreed they want to ask for cover crop/alternative crop funding, well and surface water testing, education events, and possibly sinkhole mapping in the Vernon County portion of the watershed to be “married up” with the mapping already completed in the Crawford County portion.

The group’s next meeting will take place on Monday, October 8, at 7:30 p.m., again at the farm of LaVon ‘Spanky’ Felton, at S6214 Highway 27 (go past the house to his shed/ shop).