Who We Are

The Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials (WICST) Project was initiated in 1989 to address issues of sustainability of alternative farming systems. The hub of the WICST project activities are two crop rotation trials at Arlington Agricultural Research Station in Columbia County (affiliated with the University of Wisconsin) and the Lakeland Agricultural Complex in Walworth County (the county-owned farm). These trials compare three cash grain and three forage-based production systems. The production systems vary in crop diversity and use of purchased inputs. They range from continuous corn to rotational grazing and the performance criteria include productivity, environmental impact and profitability.

Around this framework, the project has developed a number of activities. With a range of collaborators, the experimental plots are being used to study, for example, the effect of cropping systems diversity on soil biodiversity, nitrate leaching and weed pressure.

The project is also working directly with producers with on-farm trials (e.g. cover crops, introducing small grains) and decision-aid tools (e.g. organic matter conservation, nutrient cycling). In addition, the project is expanding its “diversity” inquiry to different areas and is looking at rotational grazing as a component of oak savanna restoration, prairie plantings on agricultural landscapes, and linking cash grain and dairy farms via manure trading.

The WICST project results to date show that diversified, reduced input systems are promising. Well-managed low input systems are no riskier than high input systems, and low input systems offer potential environmental benefits.

WICST works as a collaborative effort between citizens, NGO’s and the University of Wisconsin. The team designing the trials ultimately expanded to include not only researchers, but crop consultants, farmers, County Extension personnel, and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, a non-profit research, education and advocacy organization for sustainable agriculture.