Peninsula Pride Perspective: Sutter shares passion for soil health

By MaryBeth Matzek For Peninsula Farmer

Zach Sutter is proof you don’t need to be a farmer to be a part of Peninsula Pride Farms.

Sutter, an agronomist with Rio Creek Feed Mill, did not grow up on a farm, but both of his parents did. His father was a University of Wisconsin-Extension agent and taught agriculture at a technical college.

“I grew up around farmers without growing up on a farm,” Summer said. “I grew up with a passion for agriculture and a love for the natural environment.”

While interning at the state Department of Natural Resources, Sutter became interested in agronomy after learning about nutrient management planning.

“I found a way to combine my agricultural background with my passion for protecting the environment,” he said.

That led to a career in agronomy.

Even though he is not a farmer, Sutter became involved in Peninsula Pride Farms because “the organization was going to serve a big need in the agricultural community.”

Sutter said Peninsula Pride serves two major roles for farmers in the region: up-to-date information and a way to share what they’ve learned with others, and a method for farmers to communicate as a group about the way they care for the environment and are working to improve it.

Sutter, who has served on the group’s board of director since January 2017, said his job as an agronomist allows him to help in both areas.

Sutter presenting at PPF’s annual meeting.

Finding a place to start

 As Sutter works with farmers, he realizes that most understand the benefits of conservation practices like cover cropping and no-tilling but are not always sure how to make it work for their individual farms.

“That is where I come in. There is a lot of information out there in the farm press about this stuff. Some of it is relevant to farmers in my area, but some isn’t. I help them find a place to start that will be successful on their farm.”

For farmers starting out with cover crops, Sutter recommends they apply bin run oats with a broadcast spreader after harvesting the corn silage. It’s an effective method because removing corn silage leaves the fields bare, creating a greater erosion risk. Oats is a good cover crop option because the seed is cheap, and it will winterkill.

“Having a cover crop that winterkills are important for some beginning cover croppers, because they don’t want to have to manage it in spring. This practice works well because it is cheap, easy to do and doesn’t take much time.”

Farmers have unique mindset

Sutter also works with farmers on nutrient management plans, which help farmers apply manure and commercial fertilizers in the right places at the right time and at the right rate.

“I have learned a lot from working with PPF. The one unifying theme of all members is a dedication to continuous improvement,” he said. “Working with this special group of farmers has shown me what it takes to make conservation agriculture work. These farmers have a unique mindset.”

For example, the farmers look at more than how much cover crops cost; they also focus on how to improve soil health.

“This has been a pretty big revelation for me,” he said. “I have learned that, if farmers consider it from a purely economic perspective, they probably won’t stick with cover crops for long. It takes persistence and dedication to be successful with it.”

Sutter said being a part of Peninsula Pride is rewarding, adding he has met scientists, politicians, regulators and business professionals that he wouldn’t otherwise have met.

“I’ve gotten an opportunity to do things that I wouldn’t normally have done in my job like media interviews, giving presentations and networking with people from across the state.”

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