Farm network partners kick off water, soil health efforts

Farmers in Kewaunee and southern Door counties have teamed up with multiple partners to study and demonstrate conservation practices to protect groundwater and surface water in the region.

The Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farms Network is a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Door and Kewaunee Land Conservation departments and Peninsula Pride Farms. The program was officially launched Sept. 7 at a field day at Deer Run Dairy near Kewaunee, one of four farms participating in the network. The other participants include Augustian Farms in Kewaunee, Brey Cycle Farm in Sturgeon Bay and Kinnard Farms in Casco.
The network of farmers will test, demonstrate and share information about leading-edge technologies used on their farms, including cover crops, reduced tillage, low-disturbance manure injection and other practices that improve soil health, increase organic matter in the soil and reduce soil erosion. Groundwater and surface water quality are top priorities for area farmers, who contend with shallow, fractured bedrock that can provide a direct path for contaminants from the surface to groundwater.

“The Demonstration Farms network allows farmers to take the lead in improving our water and soil health,” said Lee Kinnard, owner of Kinnard Farms and a PPF member. “It also allows us farmers to have access to science and information like we’ve never had before. We are fortunate to have a great group of partners working with us.”
Farmers will try out different methods, seeing the results in their fields, Tom Krapf of NRCS said.

“Working together, we can change or adjust what is being done,” Krapf said. “This information can also be shared with other farmers so they can take steps that will help improve water quality while still maintaining agriculture as a strong industry.”

As part of the field day, farmers and other agricultural professionals learned how to identify the traits associated with healthy soil, observed an NRCS rainfall simulator showing how soil with different groundcovers holds water and saw several pieces of equipment conduct low-disturbance manure applications.

“It’s been exciting to see the different options in action that keep water the way it is supposed to be – clean,” said Duane Ducat, a partner in Deer Run Dairy and also a PPF member.
During the presentation on soil health, Jamie Patton, an educator with the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Shawano County, climbed into a soil pit and pointed out the signs of healthy soil.

“Root channels allow air and water to get into the soil, which improves soil health and helps feed its organic matter,” said Patton as she pointed out roots from the plot’s cover crops. “Organic matter is the lifeblood of soil.”

Patton said organic matter stores nutrients and water in the soil, which reduces runoff and improves plant productivity.

“There are three keys to healthy soil: cover crops, no- or low-tillage and manure,” she said. “There are definitely steps we can take with a farm’s soil and make it into something better.”
Barry Bubolz, district conservationist with NRCS, used a rainfall simulator to demonstrate how cover crops can reduce runoff. He dug up four samples of soil, ranging from one that did not use cover crops at all to one that used a variety of cover crops. He then turned on the simulator, which added the equivalent of an inch of rain to the soil samples, and collected the runoff.
The soil with multiple cover crops growing had the lowest amount of runoff and the highest infiltration levels, Bubolz said.

“The sample without any cover crop had the most runoff,” he said. “We want to share the message that if you keep the soil covered (with crops) that it is better for the soil and water.”
Attendees also had the opportunity to view low-disturbance manure application equipment in action. Dave Eisentraut of Eisentraut Ag Services in Waldo demonstrated how a newly purchased Schuitemaker bar attached to his tractor allowed him to inject manure directly into the soil.

The bar creates a small trench where the manure is then applied.

“There is a great absorption rate and no pooling of manure on the surface,” Eisentraut said.

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