Lessons from original members help drive expansion of demo farms network

By Whitney Prestby,
natural resource educator,

Since 2017, the Door-Kewaunee Demo Farms (DK Demo Farms) has been partnering with four farms to learn how to best adopt conservation practices on the ground. DK Demo Farms was the second group to form and is now one of six demonstration farm networks in Wisconsin. As the demo farms concept expands, we are turning to the original groups to better understand its impact on farmers in their respective watersheds.

While each network begins with its original farms, the intent is to not stop there. Partners work with the farmers to identify the farm’s conservation goals and create a plan to achieve those goals. Through this process, the farmers, agronomists and agency partners learn what works, what doesn’t work and how to best share these lessons with other farmers in the watershed. Through the hard work of the farmers involved and partners like Peninsula Pride Farms (PPF), we are beginning to see more farms adopt cover crops and no-till, so we decided to dive deeper into what this looks like on the ground.

All four demo farms have similar stories to share, but for this edition, we spoke with Derek Ducat of Deer Run Dairy, who is a partner of both DK Demo Farms and PPF. Derek, along with his father, Duane, and Dale Bogart, have been farming in the area since 1983 and conservation has always been at the forefront of their operation. Over the last four years, the farm has taken efforts to the next level and has adopted cover crops and no-till on almost all the 2,500 acres they work. Derek and Deer Run Dairy have worked with project partners to improve soil health and structure while streamlining various conservation practices.

In addition to farming their own land, Derek has a custom planting and harvesting operation, and it’s through this work that he’s been able to increase his conservation footprint. Over the last four years, Johannes Wakker, a client of Derek’s, has been observing the success Deer Run Dairy has had with cover crops and no-till planting. Johannes expressed interest in adopting similar practices on his farm and through conversations with Derek, they formed a plan that focused on cover crops and soil health.

Through this process, Derek provided guidance on important decisions like planting shorter day corn, which allows more flexibility to plant and establish cover crops in the fall. In 2020, Derek shared that they were able to get 100 percent of Wakker Dairy’s corn silage acres into cover crop and that 20 percent of those fields were no-tilled. It’s important to remember that the transition from a conventional to a conservation system is a process and that change doesn’t occur over night. Derek helped Johannes map out a plan for getting all of his acres into cover crops and increasing his no-till corn acres.

The goal with these conservation practices is to build healthy soil structure that is resilient to all weather conditions, whether that’s severe droughts or extreme rain events. Sometimes the path forward requires incremental steps and sometimes it takes unexpected detours, however, talking with experienced neighbors and conservation professionals can make a big difference.

To stay up to date on DK Demo Farm events, text DKDemoFarms (all one word) to 88202.

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