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La Crosse farmer reflects on 40 years of on-farm research

Categories: WSMBPublished On: May 3, 20232 min read

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A four-decade commitment isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires ample amounts of tenacity and perseverance because, let’s face it, 40 years is a long time. That’s how long Wisconsin soybean grower Ken Congdon has hosted soybean research on his farm near La Crosse.

Researchers often struggle to recruit volunteers, but it didn’t take elaborate measures for Congdon to agree. It was actually quite simple.

“They asked me,” said Congdon, who also served as Wisconsin Soybean Association (WSA) president in the mid-1990s. “That’s all it took. I always wanted to try new things and implement different practices on my farm, so it seemed like a good opportunity.”

Shawn Conley, an agronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, recognizes the tedious nature of research and commends Congdon for his contributions to soybean research.

“Sometimes farmers get frustrated when working with researchers because we can be a pain,” Conley said. “But whatever we’ve asked of him, he’s never questioned.”

Farming is more than planting a crop in the spring and harvesting it a few months later. There are countless steps that come before, during and after that growers take to ensure a robust crop. Even so, Congdon doesn’t shy away from adding a few more hoops to jump through and has bent over backwards in the name of research, going as far as changing his tilling practices to ensure a well-rounded study.

“He’s always been willing to let us come to his farm, explore different studies and adjust his operation to fit our needs,” said Conley, who sits on the WSA board.

Congdon’s secret to collaborating with researchers for 40 years? His mindset.

“I always took the attitude that I was going to gain something from them along the way,” Congdon said. “I ask them questions and their opinions. The cooperation has been really good. And I figured that there was a value to having variety information from your own farm.”

No one knows what the next decade will bring, but based on the last four, it’s safe to assume that Congdon will continue to be a staunch supporter of Wisconsin’s soybean industry.

“It’s important to keep up with change,” Congdon said. “It’s a little extra work to host research, but I think it’s well worth it. With research, the sky’s the limit.”