On-Farm Stewardship Research Group: Farmer-Led Research to Promote Working Lands Conservation for Soil Health, Water Quality and Biodiversity.

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Valley Stewardship Network
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Shelly Gradwell-Brenneman
Valley Stewardship Network


  • Agronomic: clovers, grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial), hay, radish (oilseed, daikon, forage)
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational, rangeland/pasture management
  • Crop Production: cover crops, pollinator habitat
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    The Kickapoo River Watershed (KRW) region in SW Wisconsin is experiencing significant loss of livestock integration and thus grass cover. From 1997-2012, the counties in the KRW lost around 18% of their pastureland and a staggering amount of dairy farms, burdening the economic vibrancy and ecological resiliency of this community. Decreased grass cover is associated with increased nutrient loss to waterways, reduced biodiversity, and poor flood control (Atwell et al., 2010). Almost 45% of the KRW’s subwatersheds are in the top 20% of Wisconsin HUC12 watersheds for water quality sensitivity to agricultural BMPs (WBI, 2005). Valley Stewardship Network (VSN) is a KRW non-profit with 19-years experience in water quality research and working lands conservation. VSN partners with farmers to measure impacts of BMP’s; supports watershed councils; and is well prepared to initiate and sustain an on-farm research group, based on the model of Practical Farmers of Iowa.

    Project focus is on-farm research/education on benefits of reintegrating forages and native grasses on mid-sized diversified crop and livestock farms in 4 components:

    • 1: Transition to Perennial Grass & Water Quality
    • 2: Cover Crops for Grazing/Cut Forage
    • 3: Bird Friendly Haying and Grazing
    • 4: Prairie Filter Strips for Soil/Water Quality & Biodiversity

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Overall: Create an on-going structure for on-farm stewardship research with motivated farmer leaders in priority subwatersheds.

    Component 1: Establish two years of baseline data to assess impact of grain to grass conversion on nutrient and sediment loss.

    Component 2: Document economic and environmental case for grazing/baling forage from cover crops using farm data and the USDA Cover Crop Economics Tool.

    Component 3: Test and establish verification standards for bird-friendly grazing and hay production, including haying management and nest refuge paddock guidelines.  

    Component 4: Demonstrate the erosion, infiltration, and biodiversity benefits of prairie filter strips adjacent to row crop fields.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.