IOWA COUNTY, Wis. – When a tree falls in a stream on a farm, the farmer will struggle with it. Linda Kane has experienced the problem – and the Avoca-area farmer is doing something about it.
She recently shared her plans at a tour of her farm, which is located along Otter Creek. Attendees included more than 50 farmers as well as representatives from conservation groups and state agencies. She intends to remove a huge willow tree that fell into the creek after severe flooding in October 2020. The plans involve renovating the streambanks so the creek can connect more easily to the floodplain. That can help relieve the destructive force created by fast-moving large volumes of water.
Her farm was originally established by Herman Bauer, an uncle of Tom Kane, her late husband who passed away in spring 2022. In the 1960s Otter Creek flooded so badly that some of Bauer’s cattle were swept away, Linda Kane said. Others were tangled in fences.
“Big rains do a lot of damage,” she said. “We’ve gone through some extreme times with winds and rains.”
The creation of Blackhawk Lake in the early 1970s helped slow waters flowing from higher elevations, she said. It’s owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with an operational easement granted to Iowa County. But extreme rainfall in the past several years still poses flooding problems on Otter Creek.
Kane has grazed cattle for about 30 years on the farm. Currently she contract-grazes 19 head of Holstein heifers for another farmer in the area. She’s farming about 80 acres of cropland. She and her husband had rented from neighbors about 6.5 acres adjoining their acreage. Her pasture and woodland acreage combined is about 62 acres, she said, almost evenly split between the two.
In addition to concerns about how flooding affects cattle and cropland, her barn buildings are quite close to the creek. She hopes a restoration project will help protect them, she said.
In May 2021 she applied for financial and technical assistance for streambank restoration through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The program is administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. She received recommendations for what was needed to be done from staff at the agency’s office in Wisconsin’s Iowa County.
She learned in December 2021 her application had been accepted. In March she learned she’d be able to receive the funding, she said. She now has from Aug. 15 to Oct. 16 to complete the new project.
Dave Mellum of Highland, Wisconsin, has provided excavation and streambank-restoration services for about 30 years. He’ll provide excavating services for Kane’s restoration project; he already had worked with her on another part of the streambank. In that earlier project he helped to widen the stream and install riprap, which helps stabilize the streambanks, she said. While there’s still potential for flooding, there’s no more scouring of the soil along the streambank.
Mellum Farms was also on the tour. He raises 465 acres of cash crops and forages – 300 acres of which are rented – and raises 75 head of cattle. He’s a member of Iowa County’s Uplands Watershed Group, a producer-led watershed-protection group that co-sponsored the field day. He uses no-till and minimum-till practices plus he and his family have contour-farmed for about 70 years, he said. And he’s planted 30 acres to buffer strips and 10 acres of grass waterways to protect Otter Creek.
More farmers in the Otter Creek Watershed are implementing conservation-farming practices, he said; it has resulted in improvements to the streambanks.
“Keep doing what you’re doing and remember there’s always something you can do to improve even further,” he said.
Margaret Krome is the policy program director for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. The organization also coordinates activities for the Iowa County Uplands Watershed Group.
“One doesn’t need to farm next to a stream to engage in streambank protection,” she said. “Farms using soil-health practices throughout a watershed increase water infiltration and reduce the huge burdens on streambanks in extreme rainfall events.”
The tour was co-sponsored by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Iowa County’s Uplands Watershed Group, the Savanna Institute, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Compeer Financial, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Visit uplandswatershedgroup.com for more information.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.