Farmers Launch Watershed Initiative in Kewaunee, Southern Door Counties
KEWAUNEE, Wis. (March 31, 2016) — Thirty-five farmers in northeastern Wisconsin, with a handful yet to be counted, announced today they have formed an environmental stewardship coalition. The goal of the organization, whose members range in size from 66 cows to 6,000 cows, is to leverage the ingenuity of the agricultural community, university research and scientists to meet water quality challenges.
The group, 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.
“Farmers, by nature, are innovative problem solvers,” said Don Niles, a dairy farmer in Casco, Wis., who led the planning for the group. “We can be most effective by working toward solutions in a collaborative manner.”
Peninsula Pride Farms, formed as a nonprofit, will focus on promoting farming methods that create measurable and sustainable improvements. A key to the initiative will be to create benchmarks to for continuous improvement for individual farms that take into account the unique characteristics of each farm’s systems and environmental characteristics.
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 endorsed the approach. The congressman from northeastern Wisconsin 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 forty-six 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 sees great potential in 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 of one of the most respected and influential environmental groups.
The Nature Conservancy partners with individuals, businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations across the U.S. and 68 other countries to implement science-based conservation practices.
“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,” said John Nelson, a project manager for the conservancy.
Nelson, who has been extensively involved in efforts to improve water quality in the Sheboygan River basin and Lake Michigan, was part of the Peninsula Pride Farms steering committee.
“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,” Nelson said.
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, 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.
PENINSULA PRIDE FARMS
Mission statement: As farmers and caretakers of the environment, we are committed to protecting, nurturing and sustaining our precious soil, water and air. To foster environmental stewardship, we will promote practices with measurable outcomes that secure and enrich the future of our shared community.
Philosophy: Our culture is one in which farmers are empowered to continuously improve on practices that affect the environment. Through peer-to-peer mentoring and other forms of support, we challenge ourselves to be models of sustainability. Goals and expectations are high and so, too, is our commitment to each other’s success and the well-being of our community.