Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

Managed grazing is now (and always has been) regenerative grazing – some new pieces on this and related plus a cover crops song and always, citizen scientists who rock!


Managed grazing for saving money and building soil

Remember when your grandpa just raised cattle by grazing a herd on one pasture all season? Then it morphed into not-your-grandpa’s-grazing with Management Intensive Rotational Grazing, or MIRG, and then MIG, and now its latest iteration is regenerative grazing. As we who graze livestock in equal parts for herd health as for soil health, this feels about right, by any name. Keeping soil covered most if not all year with living roots in the ground and a healthy herd atop keeps ever-improving soil where it belongs. And in an era of 100-year storms way more often, that soil – with its structure, microbial population, continuous living cover, and regular nutrient input from manure – can absorb the severity of fierce rainfall, literally. Next farm over, those storms are taking out fields and shipping soil. And close to home, they’re costing townships hard-earned tax dollars to replace culverts and reshape roads.

A single farmer’s field erosion can take all his neighbors’ taxes to fix the damage. It’s a serious problem with a reasonable solution.

A group of us who form the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group of Green Lands Blue Waters has just released this infographic on this issue with some suggestions for mitigation. We were inspired by our dual commitment to permanent field cover (per above) and to find ways to make its utility evident in many corners… such as with township boards and county commissioners desperate to save money. Please share it widely. The UMRI Driftless Region Coordinator, Caroline van Schaik, is an active member of the working group and contributed to the content of this publication.

On a related note, the MPFWG and I are contributing to a publication on regenerative grazing being lead by partners at the Wallace Center at Winrock International. When it has been peer reviewed, it will be linked here.

And on a harmonious note – pun intended – this original song video came my way via another UMRI partner, the Land Stewardship Project. It’s about cover crops, and if you don’t budge even a little on the topic, at least you might crack a smile for the trying!

Driftless stream teams turn one and take on the bugs

New and less-new stream teams completed a bevy of late season monitoring that included macro invertebrates this time around. The season, marked as it was by Covid-shrunk groups (safety first), nevertheless honored a year on the job under the auspices of UMRI and with welcome guidance from the national Save Our Streams team.

Here are two examples of what a year of citizen monitoring can look like, screenshot from the Clean Water Hub.

For macro invertebrate specifics and the data on nitrogen, phosphorous, and other measurements at our Cedar Valley Creek site near Pickwick, MN:


For macro invertebrate specifics and the data on nitrogen, phosphorous, and other measurements behind the Whitewater State Park Visitors’ Center:


New volunteers took on Mill Creek in Chatfield, MN this late fall. The creek, which very soon empties into the Root River (just behind the camera), runs along a much-used bike and walk/running path. Besides literally getting their feet wet learning scientific techniques, volunteers Debra Jene Collum and Sandra Sullivan answered many questions about our activities. The town nature of the site and its location on a public walkway combines the science with outreach before data are even entered. This is how we put eyes on our waters. Photo by Caroline van Schaik