Groundwater quality issues have been a hot button issue in Kewaunee County, Wis., for the past couple years with some pointing the fingers at farmers and their practice of spreading manure on local farm fields.
In response, 35 farmers from Kewaunee and southern Door counties have launched Peninsula Pride Farms, an environmental stewardship coalition to develop innovative ways to protect and improve ground and surface water through conservation practices and technology. The farmers, who have dairy herds ranging in size from 66 cows to 6,000 cows, have teamed up with university researchers and scientists on the initiative.
Don Niles, a Casco dairy farmer who led the planning for the group, said Peninsula Pride Farms is the first local collaboration of its kind in Northeast Wisconsin.
“Farmers, by nature, are innovative problem solvers,” he said. “We can be most effective by working toward solutions in a collaborative manner.”
Peninsula Pride Farms, which was formed as a nonprofit organization, focuses on promoting farming methods that create measurable and sustainable improvements.
A key to the initiative is to create benchmarks for continuous improvement of individual farms that take into account the unique characteristics of each farm’s systems and environmental characteristics.
Niles said the group will provide education and outreach, including on-farm demonstrations for both farmers and the public. The group held its first demonstration day in late April, discussing best practices when it comes to measuring soil.
“We’re demonstrating how the agricultural community is committed to doing its fair share in making improvements,” he said.
Peninsula Pride has plenty of supporters, including U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., The Nature Conservatory and scientists from the University of Wisconsin.
“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,” said Ribble, who led a collaborative effort to reduce phosphorous runoff in the bay of Green Bay.
Dennis Frame, who designed the country’s first Discovery Farms Program while at the UW, is helping Peninsula Pride Farms.
“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,” he said.
The new organization also has the backing of 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.”
Another 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 helped that effort, too.
Peninsula Pride Farms will draw on the strength of its members – a diverse mix of farmers, crop consultants and agri-business leaders, Niles said.
“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.