Farmer-led conservation group builds on first-year progress
CASCO — In less than a year, Peninsula Pride Farms is making major strides toward its vision of clean, safe water along with a successful agricultural community in Kewaunee and southern Door counties.
About 100 people attended Peninsula Pride’s initial annual meeting on Jan. 25 at JW’s Place to hear what the farmer-led non-profit has accomplished since it was established in March 2016 and what lies ahead.
“Peninsula Pride has accomplished so much in less than a year,” said Dennis Frame of Timber Ridge Consulting, who works with the group and with other farmer-led conservation organizations. “The farmers here were ready to step up and take leadership. They are definitely further along than other groups were at this stage.”
Peninsula Pride Farms members represent 40 percent of the cows and acres in Kewaunee and southern Door counties and represent farms ranging in size from 60 to 6,000 cows, said Don Niles, co-owner of Dairy Dreams in Casco and president of Peninsula Pride.
“Our success has been a huge team effort on behalf of farmers and our advisers,” he said.
The organization has a dual focus — to protect ground water and protect surface water through things like improving soil health, reducing phosphorous runoff and identifying shallow soils.
“Our goal is to make continuous improvement in our practices,” Niles said.
Busy first year
Peninsula Pride capped its initial membership at 43 so the new organization would not be overwhelmed. The group has now reopened membership until Feb. 14.
During its first year, the organization held two field days. The first one focused on helping farmers determine soil depth in their fields. The region has karst bedrock, which has small holes and cracks making it easier for possible contaminants to travel from the soil to the groundwater below. Knowing where the sensitive areas are provides a guide for farmers when applying manure or other fertilizers.
The second field day focused on using cover crops to make the soil healthier and keep it and the nutrients in place.
Peninsula Pride also established a cover crop challenge program designed to reduce phosphorous loss per acre. At the annual meeting, Dan Brick of Brickstead Dairy in Greenleaf in neighboring Brown County, walked farmers through the cover crop process and shared what he has learned in seven years of using the practice.
“When you’re starting something new, there are a lot of questions,” he said. “Cover crops improve the health of your soil, and I think farmers who start using them will continue to do so and more will follow since they’ll see the benefits.”
In its first year, Peninsula Pride received two $20,000 grants from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection as part of a program that encourages farmer-led conservation efforts. The nonprofit group also saw $50,000 in community support donations to go along with members’ fees.
Making it their own
Frame said Peninsula Pride benefited from seeing the success of Yahara Pride Farms, a farmer-led group in Dane County. “Peninsula Pride had a template of sorts to follow, but they took what Yahara Pride did and made it their own,” he said.
For example, contaminated wells are a concern in the area, so Peninsula Pride created its Water Well program, which provides bottled water, a well inspection and financial support for filtration to families who have E.coli well contamination. The help kicks in regardless of the source of the bacteria, whether it be cow manure, septic systems, insects or rodents.
“That was something the farmers didn’t have to do, but they realized that being good community members means helping out your neighbors,” Frame said. “Peninsula Pride really took ownership of water quality in the area.”
Niles said Peninsula Pride members want to strengthen the relationship between the ag community and its neighbors.
“On water quality, we have long-term plans and intermediate plans, and we wanted something we could do right now to help. The Water Well program allows us to do just that,” he said.
Looking forward to 2017, Niles hopes Peninsula Pride’s membership grows, the group continues its nitrogen-use efficiency study and more farms participate in the cover crop challenge. The group wants to hold four field days and to partner with other organizations, such as UW Discovery Farms to determine the flow of nutrients with multiple field management practices, soil composition and manure types, and the Natural Resources Conversation Service Demo Farms Program to implement new stewardship technologies on four farms.
Niles said board members will be divided into two groups, each taking closer ownership of the ground water and surface water issues.
“We’re very excited about the future,” he said.