CRAWFORD AND VERNON COUNTIES - By all accounts, the farmers of the Tainter Creek Watershed Council (TCWC) had a pretty spectacular year in 2018. In addition to all the hard work of farming, complicated by flooding and wet weather, the farmers met at least bi-monthly, held two major education events, disbursed their cover crop funding and conducted their well water testing initiative. The power of cooperation toward a common goal is no doubt part of the reason their DATCP funding will likely be renewed in 2019..
The group’s next meeting will take place on Monday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m., at the Franklin Town Hall in Liberty Pole. Items on the agenda will include a Surface Water Quality Monitoring report by John Delaney of the Valley Stewardship Network, discussion of the water testing initiative and plans for a community education event about the results, the 2019 DATCP Producer Led Watershed Grant, and an update on the 2018 cover crop imitative.
Two 2018 events
The first of two events the farmers put on was a stream health and fishing event held on Wisconsin’s free fishing day in June at the farm of Bruce Ristow, rural Soldiers Grove, along the banks of Tainter Creek.
Visitors participated in fishing and visiting for a while, then gathered together to witness a fish shocking of the stream by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff. Kirk Olson from the DNR fishery gave a short talk on the different species of trout and which types are native to Wisconsin.
The event included drawing door prizes for the kids, a delicious lunch courtesy of the Grassfed Beef Co-op, the Wallace Center, Organic Valley, and prepared by grille master Paul Krahn of Trout Unlimited, and a presentation given by Ted Bay and Ben Wojahn to compare the effects of different types of cover crops. There was also a presentation by Tainter Creek Watershed farmers Tim Erickson, Grant Rudrud, Chuck and Karen Bolstad, Jeff Ostrem and Josh Engel about how the group wants to promote farmers improving the quality of the watershed.
The second event was held at Woodhill Farms, owned by Brian and Laura McCulloh. The group brought in nationally known soil scientist Ray Archuleta. At the ‘Reducing Costs and Flood Impacts on the Farm,’ Archuleta presented a practical road map for restoration of farm profitability.
At the event, Archuleta discussed soil water infiltration and flooding.
“Sixty percent of the water in our system comes from the oceans,” Archuleta said. “A little known fact is that the other 40 percent comes from inland evaporative transpiration. We’ve disrupted the ‘little’ water cycle, and that’s why we’re getting the bigger rains. And flooding is basically a problem of lack of infiltration in the soil.”
2019 DATCP grant
The farmers once again applied for a DATCP Producer Led Watershed Grant, and have preliminarily been notified that they are funded for the full amount of $40,000. Final details will be discussed at the group’s next meeting.
The project description in the grant application was written as follows:
The watershed’s main resource concerns are soil erosion and runoff, water quality, and sustainable farm economics.
The project will build upon the great success that the Tainter Creek Watershed Council has had in 2018. This includes education on soil health, cover crops, water quality, and the bottom line for farmers. The group has already helped to inspire other farmers to make positive changes, and will continue to use their budding influence to create real, positive change in the watershed.
Project goals include:
Increasing awareness of surface and groundwater concerns in regards to how land management can have a positive outcome on those precious resources
Increasing the use of cover crops in the watershed; fostering of farmer-to-farmer sharing
Incentivizing the use of soil-saving alternative crops; utilizing watershed modeling (EVAAL) to help farmers in the watershed understand the concerns and see where the greatest benefits to conservation practices are located
Increasing awareness of the resource concerns coming off the woodlands
Demonstrating how farmers can economically and environmentally improve a large portion of their land base.
Farmers of record
The DATCP grant application requires that the names and short bios of at least five farmers from the watershed be included with the application. The TCWC is fortunate in an abundance of committed and experienced farmers who provide leadership and farmer-to-farmer mentoring.
Grant and Jenny Rudrud have a dairy farm with 90 cows and 90 head of young stock. They farm 240 acres, and practice conservation through contour strips, no-till, maintaining waterways, and through implementation of a nutrient management plan. The couple’s two sons crop farm an additional 300 acres, and use no-till and cover crops. The Rudruds are committed to educating the farm community in the watershed and beyond about how good conservation can protect surface and groundwater assets, while helping to produce healthy soils. The Rudruds were the recipients of the 2017 Vernon County Conservation Farmer of the Year Award.
Josh Engel of Driftless Organics and his brother Noah Engel run a certified organic vegetable and grain farm in Utica Township in Crawford County. They rent over 300 acres of ridge and valley ground in the Tainter Creek Watershed, and grow everything from asparagus to zucchini, with around 70 acres in vegetable production, 150 acres in row crops, and the rest in hay and cover crops. They strive to be stewards of the land defined as “always trying to do better and to learn the next best practice.”
Brian McCulloh of Woodhill Farms runs a 1,000-acre, multi-family, registered Angus operation where they calve 260 registered Angus cows, develop 120 replacement heifers, and sell 150 registered Angus bulls annually. The McCulloh’s rotationally graze their 260 pairs on 350 acres of pasture from May 15 to November 1; grow 800 acres of hay and 100 acres of corn, with their remaining 450 acres as fenced woodlands. “We have witnessed firsthand the increased water-holding capacity and increased productivity of our pasture and hay ground over the past 35 years, and continue to explore economically sustainable practices that benefit the cattle and the land,” Brain said.
Berent Froiland is a third-generation farmer in the Tainter Creek Watershed, and works for Chaseburg Farmers’ Cooperative as an agronomist. Berent and his father Luther own 260 acres on which they used to operate a small dairy herd of about 60 cows. They are beginning to experiment with cover crops and improving waterways on their farm.
Tim Erickson owns and operates a dairy farm in the heart of the Tainter Creek Watershed. He milks 160 cows, has 110 heifers and 15 Holstein steers. He also runs 550 acres of cropland, raising corn and soybeans. Tim employs a nutrient management plan on his farm, and is dedicated to increasing his soil health.
Dan Sheldon of Stump Ridge Farm partners with Mark and Jim Briggson in a 200-acre organic farm with 110 tillable acres. On the farm, which has been in the family for 70 years, they raise corn, hay and small grains, and have a small water retention pond they are looking to improve. They have been experimenting with cover crops, and their goals are to improve their waterways and their soil health.
Derek Petersheim farms 280 acres of row crops, and 50 acres of hay. On his farm, row crops are grown with all no-till practices, and for the past two years have been seeded with rye into bean stubble in the fall to help prevent erosion in the spring. He currently has two farms enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program, and he has begun seeding down grass buffers on field edges and steeper slopes.