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Tainter Creek Watershed Council applies for DATCP grant

CRAWFORD AND VERNON COUNTIES - In the first week of November 2017, the Tainter Creek Watershed Council (TCWC) applied for a $40,000 Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant. The next meeting of the group will take place on Monday, Jan. 8, at 1 p.m. at the Franklin Town Hall in Liberty Pole.

The grant was prepared in collaboration by Berent Froiland representing the watershed council, Ben Wojahn representing the Vernon County Land Water Conservation Department (LWCD), and Matt Emslie representing Valley Stewardship Network (VSN).

TWWC is required to have a memorandum of understanding with entities that can receive and administer the grant monies. Along with the petition, two memoranda of understanding were filed with the Vernon LWCD and VSN.

In the ‘project description’ section, the group wrote:

The Tainter Creek watershed (33,658 acres) lies in the heart of the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin. Characterized by its steep topography and deep deposits of highly erodible wind-blown loess soil that lies atop a karst geology, land-use activities in this region have a dramatic and direct effect on the quantity and quality of the water in the streams and rivers.

From an agricultural perspective soil loss/erosion, impact of flood events, the protection of sensitive trout habitat (a local economic driver), and water quality are primary concerns.

The farmers in this watershed have made their goals clear:

1. Reduce the impacts of flooding and erosion through better farming practices;

2. Learn what the water quality (surface and ground) situation is in their neighborhood;

3. Have opportunities to learn good farming practices and for neighbors to learn more from neighbors; and

4. Help improve the public image of farming by being proactive rather than reactive.

Groundwater and surface water are closely intertwined in the Driftless Region. Farmers’ fields and grassed waterways, along with springs, trout streams, sinkholes, and other karst features are all closely connected. This is why we, the farmers, have identified that we want to know the ‘baseline’ of Tainter Creek and landowners’ well water. The proposal will continue and augment an ongoing water quality assessment program on Tainter Creek, and add a well water testing component.

Along with the water quality assessments and well water testing, education and outreach of various good farming projects are a key component. Learning from guest speakers, attending conferences, and sharing knowledge with neighboring farms will also be an important part of this project.

Finally, cover crops have generated a lot of interest. A farmer-led watershed program to administer the cover crop funds will be a powerful way to get more farmers trying this important soil-saving and soil-health-building farming technique.

Farmer sponsors

Seven farmers in the watershed have stepped forward to sponsor the group’s grant application:

Grant and Jenny Rudrud operate a 90-head dairy farm, with 90 young cows, on 240 acres in the creek’s headwater area in Vernon County. They employ contour strips, no-till, and grassed waterways as conservation practices on their farm, and have a nutrient management plan in place. Their two sons farm an additional 300 acres, and have been experimenting for several years with cover crops.

Josh Engel runs an organic vegetable and grain operation in Crawford County. They rent over 300 acres of ridge and valley ground in the watershed, with 70 acres of vegetables, 150 acres of row crops, and the rest in hay and cover crops.

Brian McCullough operates Woodhill Farms, a 1,000-acre, multi-family, registered Angus operation. They calve 260 registered Angus cows, develop 120 replacement heifers, and sell 150 registered Angus bulls annually. They rotationally graze the 260 pairs on 350 acres of pasture from May 15 to Nov. 1.

Berent Froiland is a third-generation farmer in the watershed, and works for the Chaseburg Farmer’s Cooperative as an agronomist. Berent and his father Luther own 260 acres on which they used to operate a small dairy herd about 60 cows. They are beginning to experiment with cover crops and grassed waterway improvements on their farm.

Chuck and Karen Bolstad own Stump Ridge Beef Farm, a century farm, purchased by Chuck’s Norwegian immigrant grandfather. His grandfather chose the ridgetop farm that runs down through steep gullies to a large spring that feeds Tainter Creek, for its resemblance to his Norwegian homeland. Working with NRCS, the family has constructed two erosion-control structures, and the land is maintained as seasonal pastureland for beef. They are also working to establish natural prairie buffer zones.

Dan Sheldon, along with Mark and Jim Briggson run Stump Ridge Farm, a 200-acre farm with 110 tillable organic acres. They raise corn, hay and small grains, and have a small water retention pond they hope to improve. They are currently experimenting with cover crops.

Derek Petersheim is currently farming 280 acres of row crops and 50 acres of hay. For the past two years, the no-till acres have been seeded with rye into bean stubble in the fall to help prevent erosion. He is currently working to seed down grass buffers on field edges and steeper slopes.

Spending the dollars

If awarded the grant, the group has the following plans for putting the grant monies and matching funds/services into motion in the watershed:

1. Increase adoption of cover crops by providing incentive payments of $20/acre for 500 acres of newly installed cover crops;

2. Increase adoption of nutrient management plans in the watershed through LWCD providing DATCP’s Nutrient Management Planning training, farm walkover evaluations for 30 farms, manure spreader calibrations for four implements, and $2,000 in soil testing provided by VSN;

3. In collaboration with VSN, continue surface water testing at a minimum of nine sites;

4. Provide well water testing for 40 wells within the watershed at a subsidized rate to give area residents a much-needed idea of the current levels of nitrate, atrazine, and manure-related pathogens in the watershed;

5. Host six field days and four speakers in 2018, and send three to four attendees to three to four agricultural conferences; and

6. VSN will provide detailed GIS mapping and modeling services to council members to assist them in their conservation planning activities.