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Tainter Creek Watershed Council discusses 2019 education events
Tainter Creek Watershed

CRAWFORD AND VERNON COUNTIES - Nearly 25 farmers from the Tainter Creek Watershed gathered for a meeting at the Franklin Town Hall in Liberty Pole on Thursday, June 27.  The next Tainter Creek Watershed Council meeting will take place in the same location on Thursday, July 25.

Last week, the group discussed events planned for 2019, and best management practices to consider for funding through the Wallace Center Pasture Project grazing study grant. They heard a presentation from grazier Gabe Slattery of Devils Hole Ranch in Norwalk. There was also a discussion of the successes and challenges with cover crop installations.

2019 events

High Tensile Fencing:the watershed council plans a high tensile fencing workshop with Randy Cutler of Stevens Point. The event is tentatively planned to be held at the farm of Jeremy and Jessie Nagel, and a grazing field day will be held at the nearby farm of a Reads Creek Watershed farmer, Daniel Gilbertson. The group plans to ask Jim Muensch, Wallace Center Pasture Project consultant, and former Crawford County Ag Agent Vance Haugen, to lead the pasture walk. A date for this event will be announced.

Cover Crops:a cover crops workshop will take place on August 20 featuring UW-Madison Soil Science Professor Carrie Laboski and UW-Extension Soil Specialist Francisco Arriaga. The location of this event will be announced soon.

Soil Health:the group has tentative plans pending presenter confirmation to hold a soil health education event at the farm of Brian McCulloh/Windward Farms on Friday, October 4. If confirmed, Gabe Brown will be the presenter. Brown is a partner, along with Ray Archuleta and Dr. Allen Williams in Understanding Ag LLC, and an instructor with the Soil Health Academy. He

Brown is one of the pioneers of the current soil health movement which focuses on regeneration of resources. Along with his wife Shelly and sons, Brown owns and operates Brown’s Ranch, a diversified 5,000-acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. The ranch consists of several thousand acres of native perennial rangeland, along with perennial pastureland and cropland. 

The Browns holistically integrate their grazing and no-till cropping systems, which include a wide variety of cash crops, multi-species cover crops–along with all natural grass-finished beef and lamb. They also raise pastured laying hens, broilers and swine. This diversity and integration has regenerated the natural resources on the ranch without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.

Fall Tech Tour:In conjunction with the soil health event, the plan is for a group of statewide land conservation professionals to take their Fall Tech Tour in the area the day before. In addition to touring a breached dam, the goat and sheep herds for invasive species control, and a stream bank restoration project, the group will also hear a presentation from watershed council members about their current soil health innovation projects. The meeting will be held at the Viroqua VFW.

Alternative Woodland Management:Bruce and Sue Ristow will host a field day dedicated to the topic of alternative woodland management. Ben Roble of Vegetation Solutions, Keefe Keeley of the Savanna Institute, and Vernon County Forester Nick Gilman will lead the field day. The date for this event will be announced.

Grazing grant projects

The group held a brainstorm of the types of practices or purchase of shared equipment that would be appropriate uses for the Wallace Center Pasture Project’s three-year grazing and water quality study grant funds in the Tainter Creek Watershed. The funds will come from the U.S. EPA Gulf of Mexico Project.

Practices and purchases brainstormed by the group include:

• installation of perimeter fencing (NRCS will not fund)

• watering systems

• setting up paddocks and electric fencing

• grazeable cover crops

• installation of lanes

• fencing systems

• stream crossings/fords

• cropland conversion to pasture

• research on best management practices and methods

• purchase of a no-till drill, equipment for cover crops, a weigh scale, corrals and handling facilities, and/or a round baler.

The group discussed how to have a transparent process that would be fair for selection of projects and disbursement of the funds.

Grazing specialist John Zinn suggested adopting a ranking system within the group, similar to the one USDA-NRCS uses. The group agreed that one of their core purposes, which goes back to their founding after the 2016 flash floods in the watershed, is to prevent runoff of water and nutrients and slowing soil loss.

Devils Hole Ranch

Gabe Slattery of Devils Hole Ranch near Norwalk attended the meeting to talk about his family’s approach to grass-based beef production and conservation land management.

Slattery told the farmers that his wife’s family had been grazing cattle on their farm for 45 to 50 years. The hilly farm has steep gradients, and when Slattery became involved, the pasture had become run down.

Slattery told the farmers that he had met Jim Muensch, and with his advice, had implemented rotational grazing and pasture improvements that had made his family’s operation more profitable.

On their ranch, they graze 500 cows from about April 30 to the end of December. The cows will graze the crop stubble and standing corn in the winter along with silage and baled hay. He reports that last year, they even allowed the cattle to graze corn that had been flooded using temporary fencing.

The watershed council farmers expressed interest in travelling to Norwalk to have a field day on Slattery’s farm sometime in August.

Cover crop check-in

Ryan Waddell, who farms along with Brian McCulloh at Windward Farms, reported that he had broadcast a clover/rye mix into standing corn last fall. He said that this spring only the rye had come up.

Grant Rudrud reported that his son had no-till drilled rye in October and didn’t seem to get a lot of emergence or growth in the fall. However, in the spring it had greened up and grown like crazy. His son had no-till drilled corn into the standing rye with a sprayer behind the planter. He reported that the planting conditions in this context had been very favorable.

Derek Petersheim reported that he likes to broadcast seed in the fall mixed into fertilizer onto bean stubble. He reported that this method works quite well in a wetter year, but that in a dry year it is less successful because there will not be adequate seed to soil contact. He said that using a drill will help to ensure that your planting will work, and said that aerial seeding of cover crops into grain corn hasn’t really worked for his family, though it works better in silage corn because the covers will get more light once the corn is chopped.

Brian McCulloh reported that earlier in the week he had broadcast rye into standing corn. He hopes that after he chops the corn he will get a good grow on the rye and will be able to graze it.

The watershed council has funding in 2019 for installation of 600 acres of cover crops. A sub committee of Grant Rudrud, Dan Sheldon and Berent Froiland will discuss how award of the funds will be handled and bring a proposal back to the group.

Water testing

County Conservationist Ben Wojahn reported that Vernon, Crawford and Richland counties were moving forward with plans for a well water study similar to the SWIGG study in Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties. The name of the study will be Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS). He reported that members of the watershed council’s well water testing sub-committee had been invited to attend the DAWS study’s next meeting to see how the watershed council’s testing effort could be integrated with the broader study.

Wojahn also reported that he and Crawford County Conservationist David Troester had met with representatives of the Vernon, Crawford and Richland Farm Bureaus about the DAWS study. Coming out of that meeting, the Farm Bureaus from the three counties were officially going to become involved in supporting the study.