By Whitney Prestby, Door-Kewaunee Demonstration Farm Network
Demonstration Farm Networks and producer-led watershed groups continue to gain traction in watersheds across the state as a way to increase adoption of conservation practices. The concept of farmers learning from other farmers is what drives these groups.
But how do we know if this idea is working on the landscape? Are farmers connecting with other farmers to learn from each other and expand their use of conservation practices? We checked in with Guy Overbeck to learn about his experience and what changes he’s seeing in his Sturgeon Bay neighborhood.
Guy and his wife, Jennifer, run their fourth-generation cash-grain farm just south of Sturgeon Bay. For years, no-till planting has been incorporated into their farm, but they’re always looking for ways to improve the practice. A few years ago, they decided to pair the no-till planting with cover crops. As a long-time member of Peninsula Pride Farms, Guy said that he learned a lot by attending field days and various meetings held throughout the year. These events are an opportunity to see how other farms build conservation practices into their operations. To make a change, farmers need the chance to see practices in person and have the space to talk with other farmers who are trying something different. For farmers like Guy, PPF and Door-Kewaunee Demo Farms have provided that space.
Guy’s neighborhood is an excellent example of how, when farmers come together, great things can happen. Tony and Jacob Brey, of Brey Cycle Farm, farm a couple miles down the road from Guy. Breys are members of both PPF and DK Demo Farms, so when they were looking to incorporate no-till into their system, they turned to their neighbor. Guy, having been a long-time no-tiller, had the necessary equipment and experience to help Tony and Jacob. As part of his custom plant operation, Guy began no-tilling their wheat after corn silage. As Breys began to see the benefits of no-till, they decided to take it a step further and plant green.
Guy worked with Tony and Jacob, as well as DK Demo Farm partners, to learn how to best incorporate planting green into their management system. They started planting corn into an existing alfalfa field and it was a success! Finding a trusted group of farmers, agronomists and conservation staff has opened the door for new ideas. For Guy, making time to grab a meal with Jacob and Tony has been a great way to share lessons learned and think through new ideas. The benefits go both ways.
“It’s great to have a neighbor who values conservation. Guy is an excellent resource, and we value his experience and expertise. We’re happy with the results and look forward to trying more conservation practices this coming season,” Jacob said.
These conversations have helped both farms and have ultimately led to more acres of conservation.
While there have been mistakes along the way, Guy encourages farmers to not get discouraged after just one season. By planning ahead and starting small on the best acres, he set himself up for success and the results have had a positive impact on his neighborhood. As a custom planter, Guy has been able to increase his conservation footprint by helping others incorporate no-till, cover crops and planting green into their management.
The changes happening are exciting and a testament to the power of conversation and collaboration. Farmers working together, sharing their ideas and experiences is leading to changes on the land.