Knowing Your Roots

Blog 4

Andy and John Wallendal and their family have farmed 3,000 acres of vegetables, potatoes, forage and grain crops on their land in Grand Marsh for over a half century. Typical of the farms in the Central Sands region, the Wallendal family farm encompasses a rich diversity of crops, prairie remnants, woodlands, and wetlands nestled close to the Wisconsin River and sustained by a groundwater aquifer replenished annually by rainfall.

The Wallendals have always recognized the delicate balance between their farming operations and the natural resources they depend on; they have been pioneers in preserving and enhancing that balance by following the vision of their father Pete, who established the farm in 1967.  That vision is based on understanding the underpinnings of successful practices; “Science is a cornerstone in enhancing both pest management and sustainability” says Andy, emphasizing the long established and ongoing collaboration with the University of Wisconsin to jointly seek solutions to emerging challenges in successful farming.

n the 1980s, when potato production was increasingly becoming dependent on external inputs, the Wallendals donated 20 acres of prime irrigated land and worked with UW specialists from four departments to establish an unprecedented, multi-year, farm-scale experiment that put all the latest research in biologically-based pest management to the test. The result became the foundation for the nationally acclaimed Healthy Grown potato program in the 1990s.

When water conservation became increasingly important in the 1990s , the Wallendals were once again,  among  the first to experiment with state-of-the–art TDR (Time Domain Reflectometry) soil probes to determine exactly how much water was needed for the crop and at what growth stage. The probes were expensive but well worth it; Andy confirmed that “we improved both water use efficiency and fertilizer performance”.

In recent follow-up experiments, Andy and John were again one of the first to use site specific, precision irrigation where water is applied at differing rates across fields according to the varying ability of soils to hold moisture; “we are encouraged that we were able to use water more precisely and still improve sweet corn quality.”

All of the sustainable practices that the Wallendals have pioneered on their cropland are equally complemented by their long-term commitment to improving the ecosystem that their land is part of.  Projects to restore prairies and oak savannas, return unproductive land to wetlands, and connect with neighboring public lands to create wildlife corridors have earned them national awards as conservationists, but most importantly, as Andy states; “our roots are in this land and our goal is to preserve it for generations to come.”

Andy aptly describes the family philosophy as “the rhythm of the land is what we look for; we listen and make adjustments to what the ground and the crops tell us.”

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