By Steve Richter, agricultural strategies director, The Nature Conservancy
Healthy soils are the cornerstone of life. They are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and produce 95 percent of our food and filter our drinking water. The global demand for food will increase by more 60 percent in the next 30 years, creating one of the century’s paramount challenges—and one of the greatest conservation opportunities today.
Farmers in Wisconsin are rising to meet that challenge in many ways, including focusing on improving soil health. There are currently 31 farmer-led groups in Wisconsin whose members are learning from each other how soil health practices can turn-around degraded soil health. Through the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is partnering with five groups including Peninsula Pride Farms in Door and Kewaunee counties.
As stewards of the land, farmers are among our greatest allies in conservation, but they need help. The Nature Conservancy is working across science, business and policy sectors to empower America’s farmers with the tools and resources they need to protect soil health and water quality while meeting global demands for food.
TNC’s support for Peninsula Pride Farms and the other five farmer-led groups can be summarized in three ways.
Each year, TNC provides private funding to help support the groups’ cost-share programs. These private funds are used to match funds from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), thereby doubling the cost-share funds available for members to test new practices to build soil health and improve water quality.
Second, through DSSA, TNC helps the groups organize their annual activities. This includes attending monthly board meetings and field days, developing new ways to encourage participation in the cost-share program, reporting on the groups’ success each year by tracking acres of soil health practices and improved nutrient management, and helping the groups tell their story of how conservation can benefit farmers’ bottom lines and agricultural sustainability.
Finally, TNC has and continues to advocate for support and funding for DATCP’s Producer-led Watershed Grant Program each year. In 2020, the program awarded $750,000 in grants to groups like Peninsula Pride Farms.
The Nature Conservancy’s goal is to reduce nutrient runoff from cropland into U.S. waters by 20 percent by 2025. One way to do this is to improve soil health and nutrient management practices on more than half of U.S. cropland. The Conservancy has staff in many U.S. states creating networks of partnerships with farmers, ranchers and leaders in the agriculture industry to advance solutions that will make a difference.
Farmers in Peninsula Pride and the other farmer-led groups are demonstrating that, with widespread adoption of soil health and nutrient management practices, U.S. farmers can meet growing demands for food, while improving water quality and improving their bottom lines. We are proud to partner with Peninsula Pride Farms’ members and many others to build rich, fertile soil and resilient farms that benefit us all.