Gunther Melander

Gunther Melander of UW-Stout and his poster presentation.

The sixth in an 11-part series featuring the results of this year’s student research on water quality in the Red Cedar Watershed:

Interdisciplinarity was the nature of my work this summer, looking to see if there was a correlation between social distance and geographic distance within the farmer’s social networks in the Red Cedar Watershed.

Last summer, the sociology team surveyed farmers in the watershed to ask them about their land management practices and who they trust for farming advice. The surveys asked about Best Management Practices (BMPs) that keep soil and nutrients on the land and out of the waterways, potentially improving both farm yields and water quality in Lakes Tainter and Menomin.

The surveys also asked about their interest in learning about conservation agriculture and who farmers talk to about farming practices within the Red Cedar watershed. Why does this information matter? By understanding the lines of communication among farmers, we can see avenues for expanding BMP use across the watershed, as well as how to effectively share information about conservation agriculture.

Expanding the focus

My analysis expands on the work of the sociology team, looking at both farmers’ social networks and how farmers connect geographically. That is, is there a correlation between social distance and geographic distance? In other words, do farmers trust people who live close to them — and how does this influence their BMP use in different parts of the watershed?

I started my work by getting familiar with the survey that created the farmer social network, as well as prepping those data for spatial statistical analysis in a geographic information system (GIS) software called ArcMap. I looked to see if there was a spatial autocorrelation that measures the geographic distribution of farmer’s survey responses within the watershed and identifies areas of clustering.

From my analysis of the farmer social network, I found that there is a contrasting relationship between two sub-watersheds within the Red Cedar.

On one hand, the Lower Pine Creek-Red Cedar shows a high clustering of farmers who would be interested in learning about conservation agriculture, soil health, and economic projections for their farms, while at the same time having higher-than-average BMP usage. They also are more connected with farmers outside their sub-watershed.

On the other hand, Hay River showed less interest in educational programs, more connections within their sub-watershed, as well as average BMP usage in general.

From what I’ve found, we can start answering questions like: What are the differences between these two sub-watersheds in terms of geography, and society? Why are farmers in one more interested in conservation than the other?

With this information, we can better understand how to work with farmers to expand conservation agriculture across the Red Cedar Watershed to keep the nutrients on the land — and the water running clear and clean.

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Gunther Melander of University of Wisconsin-Stout was among the 11 students from across the country who took part in LAKES REU at UW-Stout during the summer.


(1) comment

Joe Joe

The water on the Red Cedar a few miles above Sand Creek is clear. At some point a feeder stream turns the Red Cedar murky. Possibly a point source of pollution. Keep in mind that the Red Cedar used to be clear all the way to the Chippewa. Instead of generalizing about acculturated farmer opinions, why not identify where the excess fertilizer and septic tank overflows enter into the river and work on removing those? Talk to the individuals, businesses, sewage treatment plants, and Tainter Lake home owners about their contribution to the problem.

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