UW Discovery Farms held its 10th annual conference in the Wisconsin Dells on Wednesday, Dec. 15. The event served as a water quality conference for farmers across Wisconsin.
The conference kicked off with a presentation by Eric Cooley, Co-Director of UW Discovery Farms, discussing phosphorus trade-offs. Through years of on-farm trials and research, Cooley found that March is the predominant month for run-off events. Snowmelt and rain make fields more susceptible to soil and nutrient loss. Controlling soil loss is the first step to managing phosphorus loss.
Cooley noted how partners increase access to resources to advance conservation goals. Some beneficial tools for nutrient retention that many farmers already have on their farm include: cover crops, reduced tillage, soil testing, nutrient incorporation, residue cover and application timing.
The Discovery Farms Conference welcomed former Ohio State University Associate Professor Margaret Kalcic to Wisconsin with a presentation on conservation practice effectiveness. Kalcic was involved in a study of Lake Erie quantifying the effectiveness of agricultural conservation on water quality. She will bring her experience from Ohio to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Biological Systems Engineering Department to continue working towards balanced solutions across all industries.
Low Disturbance Manure Application (LDMA) is a manure management strategy that mitigates water quality risks and increases nutrient use efficiency. Eric Young, USDA ARS Soil Scientist, shared that LDMA paired with soil and manure testing, nutrient budgeting, cover crops, reduced till and erosion control are the best practices to make the most out of an LDMA system.
The Demonstration Farms network hosted a panel of Northeast Wisconsin farmers to talk about LDMA on their farms. Manitowoc County Farm Bureau member Jesse Dvorachek, Kewaunee County Farm Bureau member Aaron Augustian and Door County Farm Bureau member Jacob Brey sat on the panel representing the Peninsula Pride Farms watershed group. The farmers shared their experiences and successes with different LDMA equipment and scenarios.
Dvorachek shared that no two no-till and cover crop systems are the same. He noted that he has been fortunate to experiment with a variety of LDMA equipment and shared that there is no ‘magic tool’ that will fit everyone’s farm. He feels farmers can benefit from sharing equipment within their communities.
Augustian added that he lets his community know what is going on by explaining his farm’s nutrient management practices on a one-on-one basis. He found that helping community members understand the ‘why’ behind a certain practice helps to foster a greater acceptance and appreciation for the work they are doing.
Brey spoke on the benefits of partnerships and inviting the community out to the farm. He related pounds of manure per acre to the amount of rainfall to help connect with consumers how much manure is really applied. For example, one inch of rain amounts to over 26,000 pounds of water per acre, while manure application rates are half of that at roughly 13,000 pounds per acres.
Matt Ruark, UW-Madison Professor in Soil and Nutrient Management, spoke on balancing nitrogen for better outcomes and discussed methods to use more of the N in the soil. Ruark encouraged farmers to baseline their efforts to establish a starting point as the first step towards meeting goals.
Wisconsin farmers have an excellent opportunity to provide tangible examples of progress towards conservation goals. Discovery Farms projects and programs help to quantify those examples.
The most notable takeaway from the 2021 Discovery Farms Conference was the variety of agricultural groups and organizations represented in attendance and in support of the program. Commodity groups, professional organizations, environmental groups and more were represented on an impressive list of conference sponsors. Collaboration and partnerships drive conservation and sustainability.
The Discovery Farms conference brought together farmers, industry professionals and stakeholders to discuss achieving a common goal: leaving the land and water better for the next generation.
About Discovery Farms
Discovery Farms develops on-farm and related research to determine the economic and environmental effects of agricultural practices on a diverse group of Wisconsin farms; and educates and improves communications among the agricultural community, consumers, researchers and policymakers to better identify and implement effective environmental management practices that are compatible with profitable agriculture.
Rachel Gerbitz is WFBF’s Director of Sustainability Communications and Partnerships. In this newly-created role, she oversees the organization’s sustainability communication efforts. Rachel grew up in Rock County where she was involved in 4-H and the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association. She now lives in Kaukauna. In her spare time, Rachel manages her small herd of registered Jersey cattle.