Four forward-thinking northeastern Wisconsin farmers are helping to blaze a trail to better water quality by using innovative conservation techniques and helping promote them to other farmers.
As part of the Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network, the farmers and their friends and neighbors are seeing measurable water and soil quality improvements.
The network is a partnership between Peninsula Pride Farms (PPF), the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program encourages the use of cover crops, no-till practices, alternative forages and low-disturbance manure application.
The farmers in the network are members of PPF, a nonprofit farmer-led watershed conservation group. They spoke about their experiences during a panel discussion on Feb. 13 at PPF’s 2020 conference and annual meeting.
“(The goal of the network is) really to facilitate looking at new practices and allowing farmers to show other farmers innovative practices for addressing water quality and soil health,” Barry Bubolz of the NRCS said.
“This demo network is an acknowledgement that a soil health system is the path to achieving water quality improvements,” he said.
The farmers shared how they are planting multi-species cover crops and learning about what crops to plant in various conditions, when to plant those crops, useful termination strategies, nutrient management and equipment set-up for planting and harvesting.
“Even one year of cover crops and then no-tilling into that is better than doing nothing at all,” Derek Ducat, who farms at Deer Run Dairy in Kewaunee, said.
Some of the network’s farmers are using triticale, which provides higher protein content for summer heifer feed. Others are using no-till sorghum-sudangrass, which picks up and retains nitrogen and phosphorus, helping the process of nutrient recycling.
“No-till is great for soil health and I think in the long run it’s going to improve our bottom line,” Duane Ducat, Derek’s father, said. “Not only does it cost money to run over that property with equipment, but it just also goes against soil health.”
Jacob Brey of Brey Cycle Farm in Sturgeon Bay is seeing positive results from low-disturbance manure application on his farm. He plans to use the technique more often.
“This gave us a great opportunity to get some manure out in September,” Brey said.
The low-pressure manure application system helps minimize smell. As people drive by the fields where manure is applied, their perception of farming in general is improved, said Aaron Augustian of Augustian Farms in Kewaunee.
“The manure goes down onto the ground instead of on the plants, so the fields look better from the road,” he said.
Kinnard Farms in Casco is the fourth member of the network.
Peninsula Pride Farms President Don Niles said he is proud of his group’s efforts, especially those of the demonstration farm participants.
“These are the farmers that tend to be the most experimental, creative and willing to try new things,” he said.
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More on the demo farm members:
Click here for profiles of the four farms
About Peninsula Pride Farms:
Peninsula Pride Farms is a nonprofit organization of dairy and crop farmers and corporate members committed to protecting and improving ground and surface water in Kewaunee and southern Door counties in Wisconsin. The group leverages the ingenuity of the agricultural community, university research and scientists to implement practices with measurable outcomes. More information: peninsulapridefarms.org