CRAWFORD & VERNON COUNTIES - The Tainter Creek Watershed Council met on Monday, May 6, at the Town of Franklin Hall in Liberty Pole. Their agenda included planning for their second annual ‘Free Fishing Weekend’ event, and discussion of rotational grazing with Wallace Center employee Jim Munsch.
The group’s ‘Free Fishing Weekend’ event will take place on the land of Mark and Bonnie Olson in Star Valley on Saturday, June 1, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is held on the State of Wisconsin’s ‘Free Fishing Weekend,’ when anyone can fish without a license. The event is intended to highlight Tainter Creek’s status as a Class One trout stream, and the farmer’s efforts to protect and enhance water quality in the watershed.
The event, co-sponsored by Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration (TUDARE), will include casting and fly-tying lessons, a free grilled lunch at 12:30 p.m., a farmer panel, a water quality presentation by David Krier of Valley Stewardship Network, and prizes for children.
Scheduled activities will include a fish shocking of the creek to demonstrate the variety of fish in the stream at 10:30 a.m. Vernon County DNR Fisheries Biologist Kirk Olson will once again lead the shocking. At 11:30 wagons will load for a tour of a TUDARE steambank restoration project on the nearby Rayner property along Conway Creek, a tributary of Tainter Creek.
The Tainter Creek Watershed will be the location of a three year study, funded by the U.S. EPA Gulf of Mexico Project, to study the impact on water quality through transformation of land use to managed rotational grazing, and increased planting of forages and small grains.
The Wallace Center Pasture Project is contracting with Valley Stewardship Network and local Wallace Center employee Jim Munsch to facilitate the program and landowner consultation locally.
Jim Munsch has been experimenting with ways to combine conservation and farm profitability for the last 40 years on his Coon Valley farm. He and his wife bought the farm in 1976, and initially rented the tillable acres to a grain farmer.
“I was dismayed by the amount of topsoil I was losing off my sloped land,” Munsch said. “ I got into beef farming for conservation reasons in 1980. When I started, my pastures were at one-and-one-half percent organic matter, and now they are at four-to-five percent organic matter, and even in recent large rainfalls, my fields are holding all the water that falls.”
Munsch said he experimented with a variety of approaches to beef farming before landing on grassfed beef.
“In the 80s I tried conventional beef farming and organic beef farmng, but there wasn’t any money in it,” Munsch said. “Then I discovered Rod Ofte’s grassfed beef cooperative and learned that grassfed beef sales are growing at 10-15 percent every year.”
Munsch emphasized to the group of farmers present that in his view, what is key is to get more money for the cattle you raise while pursuing conservation land management. Munsch explained that grassfed beef producers can receive as much as a 50 percent premium on carcass weight. Through rotational grazing, Munsch said, he has been able to double the carrying capacity of his pastures, and during the two droughts in the last ten years, he has never had to take his cattle off pasture.
“Trout Unlimited got a grant from the National Fisheries & Wildlife Federation to experiment with the impacts on water quality from converting cropland to pasture,” Munsch explained. “I work with Jeff Hastings, and we are in the second year of our grant. We have twelve grassfed beef farms in the program, and their return is ranging from $90 to $300 per acre net.”
Munsch explained that he has not bought any fertilizer for his pastures in over 30 years. His pasture mixes include 10-12 grassed, 4-5 legumes, and some forbes. He bale grazes his cattle in the winter, and explained that he purchases fertility through bringing bales of hay onto his land. He also frost seeds red clover into his pastures every other year.
“What has really worked for me is to identify a neighbor who may be renting his ground to grain farmers, and is concerned about soil loss,” Munsch said. “I have a neighbor who sold his cows and got a job driving for UPS. I pay him $150 per acre to grow hay for me, and he is happy because his soil loss has stopped. I also run my cattle on his land, and he likes to see the animals on the landscape.”
With the going price per acre for land rental for growing grain at about $250 per acre, many of the farmers in the room seemed to think that $150 per acre plus soil retention and building on the acres was “in the ballpark.”
Munsch told the farmers that through Wallace Center Pasture Project funding he is available for invidual consults with farmers. He will come to the farm, walk the land, and talk with producers about the challenges they are facing on their land. Matt Emslie of Valley Stewardship Network specified that in order for the grant to fund Munsch’s time, the land has to be located within the Tainter Creek Watershed, and the questions must involve grazing.
Emslie also queried group members about the best time for the project’s first field day. They are bringing in Randy Cutler, an expert with high tensile fencing from the Stevens Point area. Cutler will conduct an on-farm demonstration on construction of high tensile fencing.The group agreed that “the sooner the better,” and there were a number of volunteers to have the training conducted on their land.