Thirty-five Northeast Wisconsin farmers have launched Peninsula Pride Farms, an environmental stewardship coalition designed to leverage the agriculture community’s university research and scientists to meet water quality challenges.
The farmers have operations ranging in size from 66 cows to 6,000 cows.
Peninsula Pride Farms will focus on more innovative ways to protect and improve ground and surface water through conservation practices and technology in Kewaunee and southern Door counties.
This is the first local collaboration of its kind in an area dealing with decades-long water quality issues, said Don Niles, a Casco dairy farmer who led the planning for the group.
“Farmers, by nature, are innovative problem solvers,” he said. “We can be most effective by working toward solutions in a collaborative manner.”
The group also will provide education and outreach through things like on-farm demonstrations for both farmers and the public.
“We will empower farmers with knowledge, training and shared experiences,” Niles said. “And we will demonstrate how the agricultural community is committed to doing its fair share in making improvements.”
U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, endorsed the approach. The congressman has led an intensive collaborative effort to reduce phosphorous runoff in the bay of Green Bay.
“It is vitally important that Kewaunee and southern Door counties work to improve water quality, and I commend local farmers for stepping up and working together to find solutions,” Ribble said.
Niles said Peninsula Pride Farms’ diversity will be a strength. At the initial meeting, there were 46 farmers, crop consultants and agri-business leaders participating.
“We are finding ways that dairy, beef, hog and crop farmers, on farms large and small, as well as non-farmers can combine their ideas and energy to shape common, effective solutions that are socially, economically and environmentally sound,” he said.
Dennis Frame, who designed the country’s first Discovery Farms Program while at the University of Wisconsin, is assisting Peninsula Pride Farms. He’s excited about the initiative.
“This program can bring about dramatic positive changes to farming systems, and I believe that this has the potential, if given adequate time, to be a national model for farmer-led watershed projects,” Frame said.
The new organization also has the backing The Nature Conservancy, one of the nation’s most respected and influential environmental organizations. John Nelson, a project manager for the conservancy, served on the Peninsula Pride steering committee.
“We recognize agriculture is critical to healthy lives and a strong economy. In Wisconsin and across the U.S., we are working with farmers and the industry to develop collaborative solutions that help increase productivity while minimizing environmental impacts,” he said. “We work with farmers to improve tillage practices, manage manure and other nutrients, utilize cover crops, and develop other innovative solutions to keep nutrients and soil on the land and out of our waters.”
A similar farmer-led alliance in the Yahara River watershed has kept thousands of pounds of phosphorous out of Madison area lakes in the past two years in an effort to reduce algae growth. Frame, a professor at UW-Extension for the past 33 years, also helped get that group off the ground.
“Farmer-led watershed programs have a significant potential to protect water quality because recommendations are coming from people who understand farming and the challenges of making changes to a farming system,” he said.