May 11, 2023 at 8:14 p.m.

Planting their future

Floods inspire Gretebecks’ new way to farm

By Abby [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CASHTON, Wis. – When record rain falls caused a 45-foot high dam to fail and flood the valley below his dairy farm in 2018, Tucker Gretebeck had to watch a dream wash away.
The valley was home to a pumpkin patch and agritourism business that drew 4,000 people a year and also helped cash flow the dairy farm.
Gretebeck also lost his hot weather pasture and source of shade for the cows. He began to research ways to make his farm less susceptible to flooding and also provide shade for his animals.  
Through the collaboration of the Organic Valley insetting program, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, the Savanna Institute and Monroe County Climate Change Task Force, 1,2000 trees were planted on Gretebeck’s ridgetop pastures. The move was an effort to aid in sequestration and eventually provide shade for cows and economic value to the land.
Since planting the trees, Gretebeck has revived the Coon Creek Community Watershed Council Inc. as part of an effort to educate people about sustainable farming practices and be a resource to each other.
“I almost feel like we’re running out of time,” Gretebeck said. “If we’re going to do something different, we just have to help people do it. That’s what we’re trying to do with the watershed group.”
Gretebeck milks 50 organic cows on his farm near Cashton with his wife, Becky, and children, Trent and Lana.
The idea for the tree planting came when Organic Valley was looking for a project for their climate change task force and Gretebeck was wanting to make changes toward sustainability. Matt Wilson from the Savanna Institute designed the layout of the trees based off of how the land had been row cropped years before.
They planned for 1,200 trees of crab apple, black walnut, honey locust and a hybrid poplar tree variety. The trees line the fences between each paddock of 50 acres of pasture. It took a couple of months of planning and ordering trees, but once it all came together, it took 12 people 12 hours to plant 1,200 trees.
“This is an awesome project that I never thought we could get done, and we got it done in two days,” Gretebeck said. “I would’ve thought it would take three years to do all of this.”    
Neighbors and members of the watershed group volunteered their time to help complete the project.
The trees were planted and canopies were attached to protect them. In only one year, they have outgrown the canopies, and Gretebeck said they will provide shade within three years.
“My goal is to put more milk in the tank by providing shade,” Gretebeck said. “I hope to take their stress level down.”
The land where Gretebeck’s farm is located consists of steep hills and valleys. His research indicates there is a 700-foot drop in elevation from his farm to the Mississippi River.
“We are in a steep slant really fast and then the rest of the country is flat to the Gulf of Mexico,” Gretebeck said. “When it rains around here, we all tense up a little, especially people in the valley.”
Gretebeck’s herd is exclusively grass fed. He plants a mixture of warm and cool season grasses, so they bloom at different times. He also replaces corn silage with sorghum-sudangrass which he said is an economical sugar source for the cows.
Gretebeck said by planting trees and perennial grasses, the land will have an easier time soaking in water and reducing floods. His hope is everyone in the area, not only farmers, will benefit from the practice.
He already has the support of his agritourism participants, who have been helping him slowly rebuild that business as well.
“People in town are enthused about this,” Gretebeck said. “This is what makes farming fun for me. It’s going to benefit a lot of people with the sequestration. I don’t know if it’ll ever come back to me, but I feel good about it.”
Gretebeck said the trees will also provide a future for either dairy, beef or further agritourism opportunities if his children end up joining the operation once they are grown.
“I don’t know if they’re going to farm like me because I don’t farm like my dad did, but at least they’ll have opportunities,” Gretebeck said.


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