Two Decades Of Discovery Farms

This year marks UW-Madison Discovery Farm’s 20th anniversary. Co-director Eric Cooley reflects with Mid-West Farm Report’s Stephanie Hoff on the past two decades — how it started and where is it now.

One of the biggest changes have been increased collaboration with private landowners and organizations to grow the Discovery Farms network and research capabilities. In the new generation of the program, Discovery Farms is no longer limited to where it can do research monitoring by using local partners. Cooley says these partnerships are friendly on the Discovery Farms budget and allow for more projects and outreach. 

Today, the research projects happening statewide reflect the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture and geography. Ventures range from monitoring watersheds to measuring nitrates in crop fields or pH levels in potato fields. 

Cooley says the program is also looking at out-of-the-box ideas. An example of that is a project in Lake Red Stone where the slope and topography of the region makes hauling manure to farm fields difficult. So, producers are looking at manure sharing between neighboring fields. 

The Discovery Farms annual conference in January drew about 150 agriculturists from different commodities and regions, representing water quality, conservation and nutrient management.