Dunn County Soil and Water Health Partnership – Promoting Soil Health and Water Quality through Education
“Enhancing soil health is one of the most important things we can do for this and for future generations. That’s because enhancing soil health allows us to simultaneously address so many of our most pressing natural resource needs. It allows us to address water quality, farm profitability, resilience to extreme weather, economic risk, wildlife needs, and many others,” reported Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., Deputy Chief for Science and Technology of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Dunn County has experienced heavy rains during the spring time several of the last few years. The result of these rainfalls has re-emphasized to farmers the importance of conserving their most important fixed asset – the soil on their farmland. Farmers and community members have expressed concerns regarding soil erosion, improving conservation practices and better water management to members of the Dunn County Board of Supervisors and government agency staff. These concerns were discussed and resulted in a new partnership being formed to better promote soil health and water quality through education. The Dunn County Soil and Water Health Partnership is just that – a partnership. It is made up of many community members who are all dedicated to our mission. The steering committee members include:
Brent Christianson: Agronomy Management Instructor from Chippewa Valley Technical College, (715) 855-7505, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chase Cummings: County Conservationist for Dunn County Division Land and Water Conservation, (715) 231-6535, email@example.com
John Sippl: District Conservationist from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), (715) 232-2614, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dunn County once had a School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy from 1902 to 1957 and then continued to have a county farm until the mid-1980s. Since that time the county farmland has been managed by The Neighbors of Dunn County (former Dunn County Health Care Center) standing committee of the Dunn County Board of Supervisors.
Partnership members talked about how it would be ideal to be able to demonstrate best management practices for soil and water conservation rather than simply talking about it. These discussions lead to the Partnership submitting a proposal to the standing committee of The Neighbors of Dunn County for rental of the farmland with the goals of:
- Demonstrating soil and water conservation best management practices for the Dunn County community, area farmers and CVTC students
- Providing an opportunity for soil and water conservation education, on-farm research and field demonstrations.
The standing committee approved our proposal in December 2014 and members have been working diligently on how we can best achieve our goals. CVTC is the lessor of this farmland and will be responsible for the management of the crops, including a farmland rental payment to Dunn County. The steering committee members of the Partnership continue to meet and guide the management of the property during the terms of the 5 year lease agreement (2015-2019). This farmland is located within the Red Cedar River Watershed, which runs through a large portion of northwest Wisconsin, so the Partnership has named this project the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm.
The Partnership believes that these benefits can be demonstrated at the site of the old Dunn County farm, newly named the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm:
- Heightened awareness of limited and no tillage practices and use of cover crops as effective soil and water conservation practices;
- Demonstrate potential for increased crop yields utilizing fewer inputs, including commercial fertilizer application, fuel for implements, etc;
- Demonstrate increased water efficiency and improve water quality within Red Cedar Watershed;
- Reduce impact of off-site movement of soil, runoff and erosion control of farmland.
Please see below for annual reports on the demonstrations and research being conducted at the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm.
- During 2015, field demonstrations were established and on-farm research projects were conducted
- Grid soil sampling was conducted in every acre of the 150 acres. Using the data collected, a comprehensive soil report was developed. This enables students and researchers to evaluate the farm fields and the different effects nutrients have on crops
- Lime was applied at variable rates to address pH issues
- Farm fields were established
- The large field is set up on a corn, soybean, small grain rotation
- The small field is set up on a corn, soybean, small grain, full season cover crop rotation
- A weather station was purchased using a UW-Extension Northwest Regional Innovative Grant in the amount of $2,500. The weather station is located on the farm and records temperature, rainfall amounts, dew point,relative humidity, and soil moisture levels. Data is collected every 10 minutes and sent to a website where it can be viewed and analyzed
- A SARE Grant was also awarded to the program to help fund the 2015 Field Day and establish cover crops
- 2015 Field Day: The Farm Field Day, held on September 2, 2015, was a day for community members to come and observe the different soil and water conservation practices being implemented at the farm. They were able to tour the farm as well as view and discuss the different cover crops, soil pits, and the research projects happening on the farm. The goal of the Field Day is to open the farm up to the public so they can see how the Partnership is benefiting them and answering their questions. It gives the community a chance to learn more about the farm and the progress that is being made
CVTC utilizes an agreement with local John Deere dealer, Tractor Central, and local Case IH dealer, Value Implement, for the use of tractors, tillage, planting and harvesting equipment. CVTC students in their AgriScience classes will have an opportunity to use the top-of-the-line field equipment and get some hands-on education in conditions they see in real-world situations.
A comprehensive report is available in PDF format. 2015 RCDF Annual Report (pdf)
The Red Cedar Demonstration Farm has been featured in several news stories. Please click on the website links below to read the stories. Videos from the demo farm are available on our Youtube Channel – Red Cedar Demonstration Farm (website).
- Dunn County News article May 6, 2015
- Dunn County News EXTending a Hand article May 24, 2015
- Dunn County News EXTending a Hand article August 21, 2015
- Eau Claire Leader Telegram article September 3, 2015 & Youtube video
- Dunn County News article March 8, 2016
- NRCS Partners in Conservation article July 8, 2016
- Volume One’s article September 21, 2016
- Eau Claire Leader Telegram article September 29, 2016 & Youtube video
- Dunn County News EXTending a Hand article July 8, 2017
- Dunn County News EXTending a Hand article October 7, 2017
Agriculture 101 (AG 101) is an education initiative spawned out of conversations during the Annual Red Cedar Watershed Conference held at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Extension Dunn County’s goal of this project is to take complex agriculture terminology and break it down to be accessible for the public with limited agricultural knowledge. Spreading this knowledge will help bridge the divide between community members and farmers over issues ranging from Best Management Practices (BMPs) to the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Please click on the following PDF’s for more information on the various topics developed by 2017 UW-Extension Intern Joshua Herron.
- Ag101-Cover Crops (pdf) Cover crops are grown to protect the soil before and after cash crops are harvested and planted in the fields. Generally speaking, they are used to prevent wind and soil erosion by protecting the soil from impact and holding soil in place. More specifically, cover crops can be used to improve soil health and nutrients based on the cover crop that is chosen, giving farmers options for what best suits their needs.
- Ag101-Manure Management (pdf) Nutrient Management Plans are an effective way for farmers to maintain farm profitability while minimizing negative impacts to the environment. Nutrient management plans combine general landscape characteristics, farm specific production practices, and economic factors into a comprehensive plan for managing nutrient applications. For farm operations with livestock, the main focus of a nutrient management plan is to determine the amount, timing, and application method for manure that will be applied to fields.
- Ag101-Soil and Water Conservation (pdf) In Dunn County, the majority of our soils are sandy with a few exceptions in the southern part of the county. Physical properties of soil are very important for soil fertility and crop growth. Properties of soil that we look at to understand crop growth are soil structure, organic matter, aeration, bulk density, tilth, water movement and storage, weathering of minerals, and nutrient supply.
- Ag101-Soil Properties (pdf) Soil water cycle or the hydrologic cycle is the process of water going from the ground to the atmosphere and back to the ground. Water is the most limiting factor affecting plant growth throughout the world. Wisconsin receives an average of 31 inches of precipitation annually, with about two-thirds coming during the growing season.
- Ag101 – Precision Agriculture (pdf) Precision agriculture is a way for farmers to optimize economic returns by managing soil variability and limiting excess application of cropping inputs. Instead of one application rate across a field, technologically advanced equipment allow crop inputs to be applied at varying rates across a field.
- Ag101-Soil Water (pdf) Soil and water conservation practices are practices that increase soil productivity while making the best use of their resources. Dunn County’s focus is to limit phosphorus loading into waterways and conservation practices are our best strategy. Implementing these different strategies are possible but there is a cost associated with all of them which can inhibit farmers from implementing them. Cost-sharing is possible through multiple agencies and can be directed to farmers interested in implementing various conservation practices.
- Ag101-Tillage (pdf) Tilling is the process of cultivating the soil with a plow in order to prepare a seedbed, prepare a root bed, eliminate competing vegetation, and manage previous crop residue. Conservation tillage is practiced by tilling only a small portion of the fields or not tilling the fields. No-till generally leads to lower rates of soil erosion, lower rates of runoff, and better infiltration.