Search for Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture Recognition Program

Katie L Wantoch
Associate Professor, Agriculture Agent
UW-Madison Division of Extension
Dunn County

Wantoch, K.L.*1,
1 Associate Professor, Agriculture Agent, UW-Madison Division of Extension, Menomonie, WI, 54751

Farmers in Dunn County expressed concerns regarding soil erosion, pest control, and soil water management, and sought out information for improving and adopting better conservation and water management practices. The Fall Cover Crops program is designed each year to heighten awareness of on-farm demonstrations and cover crop applications, increase farmer confidence in cover crop adoption, and increase proficiency of ag professionals in delivering research-based recommendations to farmers, with an ultimate goal of increasing cover crop acreage. The 2020 program was cancelled due to COVID-19. Participants from nine counties across Western Wisconsin attended the 2019 Fall Cover Crops Field Day. A majority reported that farmers need to have a plan when considering planting cover crops. An ag professional notes, “This information is valuable to have when working with producers who plant cover crops. There are lots of challenges and benefits, and it is important to be knowledgeable of both aspects.” A six-month follow up survey to the 2018 program reported a majority have made changes or recommended changes to improve the health and productivity of their soil and water on the farm. Half indicated that they have improved their understanding of the issues surrounding environmental quality and made more informed decisions regarding cover crop seed selection. All indicated the information provided at the field day to be valuable or extremely valuable. Over five years, I assisted in delivering seven on-farm field day programs and collaborated to conduct on-farm demonstrations and research projects at the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm, including application methods of cover crops, cover crop seed and mix varieties, crop rotation incorporating a fallow field, no-till planting into cover crop residue, and nitrogen use efficiency rates. The field day has been attended by 400 people and material is reported to be shared with over 1,800 farm clientele each year, realizing a combined outreach of 9,000 farmers and ag professionals. Cover crops and other conservation practices are certainly not new strategies for soil health and water quality improvement. However, despite a plethora of resources available, farmers often need local demonstration to determine if these management practices are suitable in their region.