Research and future plans for the watershed brought more than 80 farmers, community members and agribusiness professionals together to discuss results from the latest research conducted on participating farms and how urban and rural citizens are impacting the Yahara watershed.
Future goals and aspirations formed the core of the Yahara Pride Farms Watershed-Wide Conference on March 2 in DeForest. Yahara Pride Farms (YPF) is a farmer-led non-profit organization working to improve soil and water quality. It was one of the first farmer-led groups in the state. The group strives to help advance new ideas and technology that balance water quality improvement with farm sustainability and profitability.
Chair of Yahara Pride Farms Jeff Endres shared that during the last 12 years since the organization was started the budget has significantly increased. The watershed includes land from the southern edge of Columbia County to the northern edge of Rock County. This year, Yahara Pride Farms will have a budget of about $400,000 for its cost-share program.
“You’re making a difference,” he told attendees. “You’re making a big difference.”
Speaker Francisco Arriaga, Associate Professor and Extension State Specialist with the Department of Soil Science at the UW-Madison and UW-Extension described attributes of a soil pit that was dug in a poorly drained soil where no-till practices were used for 10 years.
“Soil health includes biological, physical, and chemical factors,” said Dr. Arriaga. “Better aggregation and organic matter content increase the biological activity of the soil. Tillage and crop rotations affect soil aggregation and this aggregation benefits and protects soil from compaction.”
Speaker Chelsea Zegler, Ag and Water Quality Outreach Specialist with UW-Madison Extension, shared the results of a study comparing the nitrogen availability and soil health benefits of different manure, biosolids and combined compost products. Zegler explained that the study tested nitrogen by taking soil samples and tissue tests throughout the summer.
“We learned that it would be more beneficial to take soil samples in the fall and winter, too,” added Zegler.
Chris Kopman, General Manager at Newtrient, which was formed in 2015 by leading dairy cooperatives and companies with the mission of reducing the environmental footprint of dairy and making it economically viable to do so, talked about Newtrient’s efforts to help farmers voluntarily adopt climate-smart practices.
“There are opportunities to jump into carbon markets now, but it’s important to decide based on what makes most sense to your farm,” said Kopman. “Stay curious and keep good records, you’ll need them.”
He also shared some concerns regarding the markets and said that “some of the markets are being driven by consumers wanting more environmentally friendly food.”
After lunch, Kim Meyer, Watershed Programs Coordinator with Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, provided a Yahara WINS update. In 2012, Yahara WINS began as an effort to reduce phosphorus loads and meet more stringent water quality standards established by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. WINS started as a four-year pilot project, and in 2017, transitioned to a full-scale initiative that will extend more than 20 years. Meyer thanked the farmers for their work above and beyond the cost-share program.
“Farmers are spending 150% more on conservation practices than what they are receiving in cost-share,” said Meyer.
To end the conference Laura Hicklin, Director, and John Reimer, Assistant Director with Dane County Land & Water Resources shared details about the Community Manure Treatment Study.
“The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department is embarking on a multi-year project on the feasibility of a community manure treatment facility,” explained Hicklin. “The project is in the early phases and the County wants to collaborate with farmers on the vision and plans.”
Sponsors of the event included Compeer Financial, Lake Ridge Bank, Endres Insurance Agency, Inc.; Zielger Ag Equipment, and Sand County Foundation.
Sponsors of Yahara Pride Farms include Yahara WINS; Farmers for Sustainable Foods; The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin; Edge; Clean Lakes Alliance; Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; Aaron Deans; Carl Deans; Carl F Statz & Sons; County of Dane; Deans Living Trust; Hensen Bros. Dairy Inc.; Lonny Hahn; Maier Farms LLC; Middleton Farmers Co-op; PROTECKTA, Rod Martin; Trei-Four Aces LLC; United Cooperative; White Gold Dairy, Rich Maier; and Ziegler Dairy Farms.