Watershed Council discusses land management and soil health

Operation Traastad

Coon Valley sweet corn farmers Kevin and Maggie Traastad took the time to explain how they work to meeting attendees and discuss their efforts to improve soil health on the farm.

Kevin Traastad, who grew up on the farm, explained that the main crops grown on the farm over the years were tobacco and sweet corn. A diversion at the farm had allowed one field to be used for continuous tobacco, and the rest was corn on corn or alfalfa. Up to four plowing passes would be made over the soil per season.

Kevin explained that he began to see the need to do something different on earth after the catastrophic rains and back-to-back floods of 2007 and 2008.

“During these rainy events, we have seen ground sheets draining, carrying nutrients into the stream and depositing soil, rocks and debris on our fields,” recalls Traastad. “Maggie and I hand pick all of our sweet corn, and sometimes we were ankle deep in mud. “

The two returned to the farm in 2009 and, according to Kevin, realized they needed to make some changes to the management of their land. At first he pursued more advanced tillage tools and practices. However, he has increasingly realized that what he wants to do is pursue a viable no-till strategy for his farm combined with the use of cover crops to enhance soil health.

His first purchase was a soil finisher, which spread out the waste after harvest. The second tool was a custom tiller. Traastad got the blueprints from another farmer and had the toolbar and strip plow row units built by Chaseburg Manufacturing. He reported problems using this device on steeper slopes.

“None of these approaches have met the goals I have for the farm,” Traastad explained. “My new goal is to switch to a planting system in a two inch high cover crop mulch without tillage. “

He said the rainy events of August 2018 and August 7, 2021 made him even stronger in his intentions to pursue a more regenerative approach on his acres. He said his previous leadership changes helped him and he had more worms in his soil than ever before. Nonetheless, he said, “we still have a long way to go.”

“In the 2018 event, if we had only had one more foot of water, we would have had water in our house which is well outside the 100-year-old floodplain,” said Traastad. “Last month the water was all the way to the bottom of our fire number sign, and after supper Maggie and I sat in our backyard and watched the water run – there was no share where to go at that time. “

Traastad said the 2021 event deposited another layer of alluvium, or soil carried by water flowing from the landscape, onto his fields. This, he said, constantly forces him to restart his soil-building efforts.