Lee Kinnard has hosted countless tours of his farm over the years. But a recent group of visitors was a change of pace compared to the school groups and farmers who typically visit.
Members of the Door County Board of Supervisors and some county staff spent half a day in November at Kinnard Farms in Casco to learn about modern dairy farming. The group also heard from Lauren and Jacob Brey of Brey Cycle Farm in Sturgeon Bay.
“It is crucial that farmers and elected officials get to know each other and develop a working relationship,” Kinnard said. “The average person in our community is now three generations removed from agriculture, which means many elected officials are also three generations removed from agriculture.”
This sort of interaction needs to be a priority for farmers, Jacob Brey said.
“The importance of engaging with elected officials is something we hear about but don’t always make the time to do,” Brey said. “We know they are making decisions that affect our farms while they may not be familiar with what we actually do. This was a perfect learning opportunity for our elected officials, and for us as farmers.”
The goal of the tour was to connect local legislators with local farmers so that officials have a well-rounded view of the dairy community and that farmers understand the legislators’ perspectives. For its part, the Dairy Business Association helped connect county officials to the farmers and then let the farmers do the talking.
The farm families shared the farm histories, talked about technology they use to care for their animals and described advancements in growing high-quality feed, managing manure and improving soil health. Videos and photos helped highlight innovative practices like manure injection, sand recycling and a bark bed filter.
The farmers also want the chance to experiment with new approaches that might not exactly fit into existing regulations. At Kinnard Farms, for example, millions of gallons of rainwater must be collected from the farm’s feed pad and treated as waste.
“Regulation must catch up to innovation on farms,” Kinnard said.
Both farms participate in PPF and the Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network through which farmers learn and share innovative techniques. The Breys and Kinnard credited these groups with inspiring them to try new practices that will better preserve and protect natural resources. Mike Vandenhouten, a PPF board member who is a crop farmer in Door County, provided an overview of the organization.
During a bus tour of Kinnard Farms, participants saw the milking parlor, freestall barn, manure storage, feed storage, cover crops and other parts of the farm. County supervisors and staff asked a variety of questions.
“We appreciated the chance to meet our local representatives and tell them about our business,” Lauren Brey said. “Our family has farmed in Door County for more than 100 years and we want to remain a part of this community. Part of our success hinges on having a relationship with our elected officials so we can work together.”
“We have common goals,” Kinnard said. “Collaboration is the first step toward finding solutions.”