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River Falls Beef Farmers Win “Soil Your Undies” Contest

The Soil Your Undies contest combines crude humor and crude science to help farmers see how the management choices they make impact the soil they work in. For two years now, local farmers and landowners have been burying extra large pairs of Hanes underwear, with the help of local Farmer-Led Watershed Councils, in a friendly competition to see how well their soil breaks down cotton. In just 2 months, healthy soils can completely demolish a pair of tighty whities, whereas briefs “planted” in unhealthy soils often don’t show much decay. 


Measuring the decay of the cotton in underwear provides a rough measurement of soil health, because decay happens as the microbes and critters in the soil break down organic materials. Unhealthy, compacted, or “dead” soils usually don’t possess those microbes that also help the roots of crops to recycle nutrients, maintain soil structure for water retention, and reduce compaction to help roots grow more easily. 


This year’s winners of the Soil Your Undies challenge are Liz and Randy Mittag of Shadow Ridge Ranch. The Mittags run a beef farm in River Falls that aims to raise cattle in a way that helps the land and connects the community to their food. Their cattle are rotationally grazed, meaning they move through pastures often enough that each pasture has time to rest and rejuvenate before seeing livestock again. By pasture-feeding cattle, instead of confining them to a barn and feeding them corn, the Mittags are protecting land that would otherwise be in row cropped fields losing more soil and nutrients to local streams and lakes and providing habitat for birds and pollinators alongside their Herefords.  


“The underwear contest is great fun and it brings camaraderie to ranchers and farmers in a playful competition. We’ve been doing rotational grazing and we knew our soils were doing better with the changes we’ve made, but it was really fun to see it compared to other fields,” said Randy Mittag after he and Liz received the award at the South Kinnickinnic Farmer-Led Watershed Council annual meeting in early April. Alongside bragging rights, the couple now have a trophy of a miniature pair of underwear. They also provided the beef served for dinner that evening. The Mittags are always excited to see more farmers integrate rotational grazing and beef onto their own farms. “If there’s anyone interested in this type of stuff, Liz and I are always willing to lend a hand and show them what we’ve learned.”


In addition to the Soil Your Undies contest, Farmer-led Watershed councils provide incentive funding for farmers to try conservation practices on their own farms, and provide farmer-led education and networking opportunities to landowners and farmers locally. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, contact local watershed coordinator Tara Greiman-Daun by phone, text, or email at tdaun@wisconsinfarmersunion.com or 715-492-0329. More information on the councils is available online at farmerledwatershed.org or at facebook.com/farmerledwatershed.



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