The president of the Peninsula Pride Farms coalition presented a preview of the group’s second-year goals and activities Monday.
Don Niles, who manages the Dairy Dreams farm near Casco, made a presentation to the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee.
Established last March to “demonstrate through research and actions that clean, safe water and a successful dairy community can co-exist on our peninsula,” Peninsula Pride Farms (PPF) already claims membership representing 40 percent of the cows and acres in Kewaunee and southern Door counties, Niles said.
The first goal for the second year is to maintain and grow that membership, he said.
Among the accomplishments were establishment of a cover crop program, which aims to reduce or eliminate the amount of phosphorus runoff from farms. PPF found that its members’ 48,300 acres measured a 2.34 pounds of phosphorus loss per acre, under the state allowable limit of 6 pounds per acre.
“That number is only meant as a baseline to where we’re starting from,” Niles said. “We’re committing our membership to continuous improvement.”
Although phosphorus and nitrogen are important mineral nutrients for growing plants, they have a detrimental effect on water quality. Cover crops reduce the erosion of nutrient-rich soil and the resulting run-off into streams and other bodies of water.
“Obviously we want all the nitrogen we put on the field to be used by the growing plant,” Niles said.
The coalition also established the Water Well program, aimed to help rural residents at risk of E. Coli contamination, whatever the source. Under the program the group will pay for bottled water and a well inspection for homeowners, help cover the costs for a water treatment system if it’s necessary, and pay for servicing the system.
Four residents are currently being assisted, Niles said.
For this year PPF plans to begin a multi-year program with University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms that will study the movement of nutrients using different field-management practices, soil compositions and manure types, in order to determine which practices are best.
“So we’ll be testing tile water from fields that get manure, from fields that get commercial fertilizer, from shallow-bedrock fields, from deep fields, fields of cover crops, it’s going to be a lot of different fields that are going into this for organic collection,” Niles said.
Seven farms and multiple fields per farm are participating, reflecting PPF’s ability to work collaboratively across farmers, he said.
There’s often a tendency of farmers to try something a little bit different but kind of keep quiet about it – in case it doesn’t work you don’t want to look like an idiot, so you don’t really want to be out there talking that much,” Niles said, then quipped, “Now we’re all free to be idiots, but we’re going to collect the information from what we do so we can all learn from it.”
The resulting data is “what’s going to drive us forward,” he said.
Another project for 2017 is the beginning of a three-year partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on its Demo Farm Program, which will study and implement new technologies for environmental stewardship on four farms.
Supervisor Chuck Wagner told Niles that he’s been working on Kewaunee County water quality issues for 15 years and is pleased to see that the organization has been established.
“Personally I’m looking at this as finally somebody’s listening, finally things are happening, and I’m really excited for the group, and I commend you all for doing this,” Wagner said.
“We wanted to give the farmers a voice and also give somebody who wanted to speak to the farmers somebody to speak to,” Niles said.