A yard sign for the Institute for Rural Partnerships is shown in a grassy area on the UW–Madison campus. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

Two new projects focused on responding to natural disasters and protecting water quality in rural Wisconsin received funding through the Wisconsin Rural Partnerships Institute at UW–Madison. Each project fosters collaborations between interdisciplinary teams of university scientists, local non-profit organizations, elected officials, farmers, business owners and other neighbor groups.

This is the second round of projects funded by the Wisconsin Rural Partnerships Institute, which receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Four earlier projects focused on rural livability, student mental health, Indigenous food systems and rural community health services were announced in 2023.

“These projects exemplify the Wisconsin Idea,” says Doug Reinemann, associate dean for extension and outreach in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison, “Internationally recognized experts in climate science, environmental protection, agricultural practices and other disciplines will join forces with local experts to collaboratively develop solutions that will benefit rural communities.”

Patrick Robinson, associate dean for agriculture, natural resources, and community development with the UW–Madison Division of Extension, says, “Extension has a long history of being present in Wisconsin towns and cities and working alongside local officials and volunteers to identify innovative solutions that make communities safer, healthier and more prosperous. We look forward to the positive outcomes from these new Rural Partnerships Institute projects.”

Preparing Wisconsin’s rural communities for amplified weather extremes

Working with farmers, local government officials and students in rural schools, this project aims to increase climate resiliency in three rural Wisconsin regions by improving identification of and preparation for impacts from extreme variations in temperature and precipitation. Billion-dollar weather disasters reached a record high nationally last year, and Wisconsin communities need plans to effectively address a natural disaster before it reaches them. The project aims to strengthen rural Wisconsin’s capacity for proactive planning and management of amplified extreme weather events.

Project leaders: Ken Genskow, professor and extension specialist, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture; Steve Vavrus, Wisconsin State Climatologist and assistant director, Center for Climatic Research, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies; Paul Block, associate professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Improving Central Sands groundwater quality to ensure a vibrant future for agriculture, rural living and surrounding ecosystems

This project focuses on improving groundwater quality in Wisconsin’s Central Sands. The region, in the middle of the state, includes 2 million acres with deep sandy soil and a mostly rural population of about 300,000. Potatoes and processing vegetables grow particularly well in sandy soil. These crops generate more than $5.8 billion in total economic activity in the region. The deep sandy soil is more susceptible than other soil types to groundwater leaching of nutrients and pesticides used to grow the crops, resulting in higher concentrations of nitrate in groundwater than other parts of the state. The project includes conducting field research to assess impacts from solutions that are both feasible for growers to adopt and economically viable, as well as providing area communities with research-based information on improving and protecting water quality.

Project leader: Jed Colquhoun, professor and extension specialist, Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences.

UW’s Rural Partnerships Institute is part of a broader USDA-funded Institute for Rural Partnerships, housed at UW–Madison, Auburn University and the University of Vermont. The institute aims to promote equitable, resilient, and prosperous food and agricultural systems and expanded opportunities for rural community development. It fosters collaborations with community-based initiatives and local research, educational institutions and subject matter experts. 


Contact: Doug Reinemann at or Patrick Robinson at