Close to 100 farmers and agribusiness workers stood together Tuesday morning to endorse changes in agriculture that they said will make farming more sustainable for the long term.

“Everyone in this group is committed to the belief that agriculture, strong communities and environmentalism go very well together,” said Lee Kinnard (pictured), owner of one of five farms whose wastewater discharge permits would be the subject of a Department of Natural Resources hearing about two hours later.

The gathering was held in a meeting room overlooking Kinnard Farm’s modern milking parlor that uses robotics to milk 100 cows at a time on a vast carousel.

The milking parlor at Kinnard Farms handles 100 cows at a time. (Kewaunee County Comet photo by Warren Bluhm)

Kinnard, who said he was the fifth generation to farm his family’s land, said when he began his career 30 years ago, Kewaunee County had 700 farms. Today he said it’s down to about 149.

A big part of the reason is “brain drain,” he said.

“The youngsters, the next generation, didn’t really want to partake in a career that offered lots of days of work – a lot of times 365 days a year – and no guaranteed income,” Kinnard said.

Agriculture has lived up to the need for change, making it more attractive for youth to choose a career in agribusiness, he said. “Technology and science have revolutionized the way we farm. Adopting this technology has been a huge, collective investment taken on by our area farmers and by our area agribusinesses, many of whom are here today.”

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Nathen Nysse, owner of Tilth Agronomy, said farmers are working to prevent soil erosion with new practices such as planting cover crops.

“This year we have four times the acreage of cover crops we had in 2016, because farmers recognized and appreciated the value of that cover crop on their land and how much it has protected their soil,” Nysse said.

Don Niles, co-owner of the Dairy Dreams farm that is also one of the permit applicants, talked about the Peninsula Pride Farms coalition, of which he is president.

“It was a little less than two years ago that a group of farmers got together and recognized the fact that we, as the major land users in Kewaunee and southern Door County, have a responsibility for protecting the groundwater through new and improved and innovative practices,” Niles said.

Peninsula Pride members now represent about 50 percent of the farm acres, cows and milk produced in Kewaunee and southern Door counties, he said.

“Now it’s not one farm trying to find solutions and improvements, but it’s 50 farmers trying to find solutions and improvements and then combining our ideas, working together, committed to the idea that we can have both safe and healthy clean drinking water and we can have a thriving agricultural community here in Kewaunee and southern Door County,” Niles said.

Kinnard wrapped up the news conference saying county farmers recognize their responsibility to protect the waters in and flowing into Lake Michigan, part of the world’s largest supply of fresh water.

“Our belief here is that agriculture is crucial to a thriving community and agriculture can co-exist with our environment,” he said.