Study: Peninsula Pride Farms’ conservation practices can slow erosion, phosphorus
CASCO – Since its formation five years ago, Peninsula Pride Farms has touted the importance of a variety of soil and water conservation practices being used on its member dairy and cattle farms in Kewaunee and Door counties. Now, a study attaches potential and promising numbers to some of those practices.
The study indicated that the planting of cover crops such as rye and the adoption of strip-tillage or no-tillage planting of typical crops, instead of conventional chisel tilling, could significantly reduce soil erosion and phosphorus runoff on dairy farms. It was conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Soil Science and the Wisconsin chapter of The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization.
It's important to note the numbers given at a Jan. 27 virtual press conference are not actual measured reductions in erosion and phosphorus loss, but projections based on analysis of the study. The study's figures were not from actual farms, rather they were based on acres of Peninsula Pride Farms member operations that used those practices in 2019.
The study also doesn't project changes in water quality because of variables in the watershed that can impact how soil and contaminants get into the water. The karst topography of Kewaunee and southern Door counties, with limited topsoil covering a fractured bedrock, is part of the reason water quality has been an ongoing problem.
Nevertheless, Don Niles, president of Peninsula Pride Farms, said the analysis is important because it shows the practices a number of its member farms are implementing to help the soil will do just that.
"That's the agreement we have with the nonfarming public. They wish us to be here, but they wish us to do things better," Niles said. "We're giving our nonfarming neighbors a report card on how we're doing."
The analysis showed that:
- A farm with a corn silage and alfalfa rotation that adopts 362 acres of small-grain cover crops such as rye following corn silage could reduce its soil erosion by 326 tons, about 50% of its usual loss, and phosphorus loss by 420 pounds, about 40%.
- A farm that adopts strip-tilling on 708 acres of a corn, soybean and winter wheat operation could reduce its soil erosion by 885 tons, about 70%, and phosphorus loss by 1,083 pounds, about 55%.
- A farm with a continuous corn operation that goes no-tillage on 327 acres could reduce its soil erosion by 958 tons, about 60%, and phosphorus loss by 1,347 pounds, about 50%.
For comparison, the study added that a mid-size dump truck can carry 10 tons of sediment and one pound of phosphorus in a waterway can cause up to 500 pounds of algae to grow.
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Peninsula Pride is a nonprofit membership organization formed in 2016 to "address agriculture’s role in improving water quality in Kewaunee and southern Door counties … to leverage the ingenuity of the agricultural community, university research and scientists to meet water quality challenges," according to a statement on its website.
Its 43 member farms at the time of the study (it's now 50 members), ranging from smaller operations to industrial-sized CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations, meaning 1,000 animals or more on site), had more than 67,000 dairy animals and beef cattle on more than 63,000 acres of land.
The study said 18,697 of those acres were planted with conservation tillage practices (strip-till or no-till), 10,124 had cover crops, 63,038 were covered by nutrient management plans and 6,089 were fertilized by low-disturbance manure injection. These are among the conservation practices being practiced by farms across the state, said Dana Christel, a conservation specialist with DATCP.
Steve Richter, agricultural strategies director for the conservancy, said there are about 30 similar organizations of farmers working on conservation practices in Wisconsin, and he's looking for more and more farmers to adopt such practices to have an impact on soil and water quality.
"We need to see this change at hundreds of thousands of other acres," Richter said.
He said the conservancy has spent 15 to 20 years working on the issue, trying to have farms become more aware of the environment while understanding the vital place agriculture has in the state's economy. He added that one of the ways Peninsula Pride and the other similar groups do this is to encourage their member farms to try new ideas and make their own decisions.
"Collectively, the farmers and citizens of Wisconsin, we really need agriculture to be prosperous and resilient and sustainable," Richter said. "One of the significant ways we can make this impact is for the people working closest to the land, the famers in the communities, really be the leaders and feel engaged and valued in these decisions, so it's not a top-down approach to conservation but bottom-up. Let's let them feel they're part of the decision making."
Niles noted that a number of Peninsula Pride members have gone that route, trying new methods beyond the basic conservation techniques.
"Once they found a way to get in their cover crops and got comfortable with that, then they start looking for something new," he said. "I've been thrilled with the member farms and the aggressive way they've gone after those new practices."
As for the expense, Niles said Peninsula Pride has a cost-sharing program for several of these practices. That and the group's membership dues are set up to encourage farms of any size to join and take part in the cost sharing, he said.
For more information, call 920-837-2777 or visit peninsulapridefarmsinc.org.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Study: Peninsula Pride Farms' conservation practices can slow erosion, phosphorus