The Braggers have also adopted water quality protection measures.

Grass waterways—6,000 feet of them--trap sediment and slow water flow through their sloping fields. In addition, seven earthen “check” dams high in the watershed temporarily hold water coming off steep woodlands before it reaches cropped fields. The water is slowly released into grass waterways.

“We’ve been having a lot of intense localized rain events in the last five or six years,” says Tom Schultz, a conservation technician with the Buffalo County, Wisc., Land Conservation Department. In 2010, for example, parts of the county received 10 inches of rain in a few hours. “These structures have really been put to the test, and they’ve performed well.”

The Braggers stabilized 13,000 feet of stream banks on their property, removing trees, and sloping and seeding the banks to permanent grass cover. They maintain the improved stream banks by burning them every spring to suppress trees and brush, which can shade out the grass and cause the banks to crumble.

At strategic places where concentrated surface water flows into the streams, they installed wider grass buffers. This practice allows them to farm safely within about 10 feet of stream banks, Bragger says.