By Eric Cooley, co-director, Discovery Farms
Discovery Farms® monitored three edge-of-field surface water sites and two tile drainage sites at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy from 2003 to 2008. Through this research, information was gained on the timing and magnitude of soil and nutrient loss from cropped fields, weather and soil conditions that generated surface runoff and tile flow, and the effect of cropping system, tillage, manure/fertilizer application and other management factors that influenced soil and nutrient loss on the farm.
The late John Pagel and other farm managers used this information to make management tweaks to mitigate future losses. Pagel’s Ponderosa was one of the original Discovery Farms sites selected for Discovery Farms research and John was a leader in conservation, as he always strived for “continuous improvement” on the farm.
In fall 2018, a joint venture between Discovery Farms, the Door Kewaunee Demo Farms Network, Peninsula Pride Farms and the Kewaunee County Land Conservation Department brought edge-of-field monitoring back to Kewaunee County. The study will evaluate the effectiveness of cover crops, no-till and grassed waterways to mitigate soil and nutrient loss from cropland at the edge-of-field scale. The project is partially funded and guided by the USDA-NRCS via the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and will run for a minimum of five years (2019-2023).
Two edge-of -field monitoring stations were installed to measure and collect runoff samples from monitored basins. Samples are collected by Kewaunee County Land Conservation Department staff with remote technical assistance from the United States Geological Survey, and are analyzed for soil, phosphorus and nitrogen.
The sites are located at two different farms: Deer Run Dairy LLC, operated by Duane and Derek Ducat and Dale Bogart and Augustian Farms LLC, operated by Aaron, Todd and Ginane Augustian. These farms are implementing conservation practices including re-engineering waterways and planting cover crops to observe how they can reduce runoff.
With the record-setting precipitation and intense rain events in the past few years, we have observed elevated gully, sheet and rill erosion in Kewaunee County and across Wisconsin. As intense rain events are becoming more common with climate change, conservation practices to reduce soil loss, both in the field and concentrated flow channels, will become increasingly important to maintain crop productivity and reduce environmental impact.
In the summer of 2020, waterways at both Augustian Farms and Deer Run Dairy were renovated. At Augustian Farms, an existing waterway was redesigned to NRCS technical standards both upstream and downstream of the monitoring location. At Deer Run Dairy, a historic waterway was revamped to NRCS technical standards downstream of the monitoring site, as past erosion had caused parallel flow channels outside of the waterway and reduced the effectiveness of the waterway. Additionally, a concentrated flow channel upstream of the monitoring site was graded and seeded to protect from gully erosion at Deer Run Dairy. Future water quality monitoring at both sites will compare soil and nutrient loss to determine the effectiveness of renovating concentrated flow channels at both sites.
We look forward to sharing more data from this project with producers. To receive the latest information from the Discovery Farms Program, visit www.uwdiscoveryfarms.org and click “Subscribe for updates.”