Each group is involved in critical environmental projects unique to the resource concerns of their local communities.
This past winter, I had the pleasure of helping the groups plan their member meetings. The common thread in the four meetings was an intense interest by farmers, residents, agency personnel and ag business representatives.
In all, nearly 400 people came together to explore conservation practices and how farmers can make them economically viable.
The use of cover crops was a popular topic, but in times of low milk prices, farmers must think long-term, which admittedly can be a struggle.
Jeff Endres, a dairy farmer from Waunakee and the chairman of Yahara Pride Farms, encouraged farmers to consider the cost of soil and nutrient loss over time.
There are plenty of positive economic aspects of cover crops, said Heidi Johnson of Dane County University of Wisconsin-Extension, who noted erosion reduction, forage alternative, nutrient availability to cash crops, weed control and better water infiltration.
Farmers in each of the groups, like most dairy farmers, are interested in learning how to maximize the value of their manure. There is no better organic fertilizer, and storage, transportation and application are topics of interest.
Low-disturbance manure injection is a good tool to reduce erosion, odor and runoff. Low-pressure manure irrigation is another option that was recently approved for use in the Peninsula Pride Farms region.
Many of the topics discussed at the meetings have been covered at various state meetings over the years, including Dairy Strong, but nothing can take the place of a localized effort. For many farmers (my own family included), traveling to a meeting in Madison isn’t realistic. I was particularly struck by the farmers and residents who attended with pure intentions simply to learn something new.
From a DBA standpoint, when farmers embrace practices that make economic sense and improve water quality, our conversations with lawmakers are made easier. Regulations have their place, but private citizens can make changes to the environment so much quicker — in some cases in as little as one growing season!