Did you know Dunn County once had a School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy from 1902 to 1957? The Dunn County Historical Society reports the school was the first agricultural high school in the United States.
After its closing, the county continued to operate the farm until the mid-1980s when the farmland was rented to local farmers. Today, the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm, site of the former county farm, is providing an opportunity for soil and water conservation education, on-farm research and field demonstrations.
Soil and water health
The Dunn County Soil and Water Health Partnership was formed in 2014 by agency staff from Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), Dunn County Land and Water Conservation Division (LWCD), Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), and UW-Extension. The partnership was searching for an opportunity to demonstrate soil and water conservation best management practices for the Dunn County community, area farmers and CVTC students.
Members of the Partnership guide the management of the 140 acres of farmland, while CVTC’s Agriscience students are able to use the farm for an outdoor learning environment.
“The Red Cedar Demonstration Farm gives students a hands-on opportunity to plant, scout fields, monitor growth, harvest, write nutrient plans, take soil samples. Really, it’s a full farm laboratory for students,” said John Sippl, Dunn County NRCS District Conservationist.
Conservation agriculture is a collection of practices that are designed to create a high-quality soil structure and improve overall soil health. These practices aim to protect the soil from erosion and degradation from tillage, wind or water while enriching soil quality and biodiversity. Conservation practices also assist in increasing water infiltration rates, which reduce surface runoff and contribute to the preservation of water quality.
Conservation practices help growers retain the soils’ productivity while making the best use of resources (land, labor and capital). Several of these practices are being implemented on the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm, including:
Crop rotation — practice of rotating crops in recurring succession on the same field. Rotations may improve productivity, while also reducing insect and disease pressure as compared to continuous cropping systems. A corn-soybean-small grain crop rotation is being grown.
Conservation tillage — least amount of tillage to promote a good seedbed while leaving at least 30 percent residue cover. No-till system has been adopted at the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm for maximum erosion control.
Cover crops — provide interim protection to the soil between regular cropping intervals. Cover crops on sandy soils, such as those at the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm, help to reduce spring wind erosion and aid in the conservation of water.
No-till grain drill
Dunn County has seen a renewed interest in farmers wanting to implement these conservation practices, especially in the adoption of cover crops. Cover crops can provide many benefits for the soil in crop production systems.
The first step that farmers must do when selecting cover crops should be to ask some questions to help clarify their goals for using cover crops. Different goals require different cover crop species or species mixes.
While there are dozens of cover crop species available, the choices for cover crops species that will be successful are often dictated by what crop the farmer will plant the cover crops after. In addition, the type of farm equipment available to plant the cover crop can impact that decision. Many farmers agree that drilling of cover crops provides the best soil-to-seed contact and establishment of cover crops.
Dunn County recently purchased a Great Plains 10’ No-Till Drill for use at the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm. In addition, the no-till drill is available to rent for the purpose of seeding conservation practices, planting (small acreage) cropland fields, and renovating pastures. This purchase was also financially supported by UW-Extension Dunn County Agriculture, Save The Hills Alliance, Inc. grant, and Dunn County Forage Council.
The drill is available to be rented by county residents for a flat rate daily fee and additional acre usage fee. For more information on the rental of the no-till drill, please contact Chris Gaetzke in the Dunn County Land and Water Conservation Division at 715-232-1496.
Materials in this article from UW-Extension publication A3588: Management of Wisconsin Soils and UW-Extension Cover Crop website (https://fyi.uwex.edu/covercrop/).
For more information on the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm, contact Katie Wantoch, agricultural agent specializing in economic development for the UW-Extension Dunn County, at 715-232-1636 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.