On April 22, we celebrate Earth Day which symbolizes environmental protection worldwide. It’s a good reminder for us to reflect upon environmental stewardship and how actions can have a positive or negative impact on our natural resources. Earth Day comes at a time of year when farmers are ready to gear up their equipment and go full speed ahead planting their crops this spring. Farmers are often called stewards of the land because of their close connection to the land. Their livelihood relies on the ability to use the land and natural resources to produce food, fuel and fiber and so, it is in their best interest to do their part in protecting it.
I grew up riding in the tractor with my dad and grandpa on the 80-cow dairy that my parents still farm. As a young child, I thought riding in the tractor was a fun way to spend time with my grandpa, sister and cousins as we were crammed behind the seat looking out the back window. As I grew older, I realized the important connection farmers have with the land and natural resources like clean water. There is much more planning, effort and strategy behind getting in the tractor than my younger self realized. I realized this even more as I graduated from college and began my current job at UW Discovery Farms.
UW Discovery Farms is a farmer-led, research and outreach program of UW-Madison Division of Extension. Through my work at UW Discovery Farms and spending time on my family’s farm, I have experienced how every decision a farmer makes is a well thought out plan with weather, time, crop, labor and the environment in mind. Our staff focus on water quality research on privately owned farms throughout Wisconsin. The goal of our research efforts is to understand how different management practices affect water quality and provide farmers with the tools to implement practices that are compatible with the environment and a successful farm.
In order for this research to occur, farmers must open their doors and allow us onto their farms to study impacts of their specific farming practices on water quality. This demonstrates a commitment from these farmers to water quality improvement. UW Discovery Farms values our partnerships with farmers and seeks to provide value back by giving a full, uncensored report of the data collected with recommendations based on results.
The relationship between agriculture and the environment is complex and can be influenced by many factors at varying scales. Research is important to provide evidence of farm impact and can assist farmers and land owners in making sound, beneficial management decisions to preserve the environment and farm landscape. There is no one size fits all solution to mitigating environmental impact from agriculture, but by utilizing sound science to understand farm impacts, a positive change can occur.
My experience has crafted an appreciation for all the time and effort I witnessed my dad and grandpa put in to caring for their land and crops as I rode in the cab of the tractor. As we celebrate Earth Day this week, I reflect on the importance of research efforts to develop practical solutions to protect water quality on our farms and I appreciate the farmers who open their doors so research can occur.
Erica Olson is the communications and farmer network coordinator for UW Discovery Farms. Erica enjoys seeing farmers’ passion for maintaining farm sustainability, productivity and profitability while caring for the landscape. Erica grew up on her family’s fifth generation dairy farm in Black River Falls and continues to help out with farm chores whenever possible.