Opinion: Clean Water is a Farmer’s Best Friend

For Marshfield (OnFocus) – Farmers care about land stewardship because they drink the same water, grow crops, and raise their families on the land. Land stewardship is directly connected to the bottom line and management of the land for long-term viability. Many local farmer initiatives have been successful in working towards a common goal.

Wood and Portage County farmers have been proactive in sustainable farm practices which improve water quality. In 2016, “Farmers of Mill Creek Watershed Council came together because they care about the soil, water, and farmers. Their ultimate goal is to be stewards of environmental sustainability and to demonstrate that farmers are conservation leaders who care about land and water and are doing everything they can to take care of it.” Fishers and Farmers Partnership  

It started out with 20k from State of Wisconsin’s new Producer Led Watershed Protection Grants and has grown every year. In 2021, DATCAP awarded Farmers of Mill Creek $31,749 from the $750,000 in producer-led watershed protection grants to 30 farmer-led groups.  “Grants support producer-led conservation solutions by encouraging innovation and farmer participation in on-the-ground efforts to improve Wisconsin’s soil health and water quality.” Wisconsin State Farmer

These groups have focused on utilizing cover crops and reduced tillage practices within the Mill Creek Watershed. Planting cover crops keeps the soil from eroding, adds nutrients to the soil and reduces weed growth, which then reduces the number of herbicides that are needed to kill the weeds. Farmers have also gone from plowing, to chisel plowing, to vertical tillage, to no-till. No-till has increased the amount of residue on the surface, which reduces soil erosion.  Each farmer has a huge toolbox of tools to use that works the best for them and their farm to be good stewards of the land.

Lastly, many farmers do soil tests on their land so that they are only applying the amount of nutrients needed for what they are planning to grow. Agronomists analyze soil samples and make recommendations based on the crop. Improvements in technology for soil sampling have included grid sampling with GPS, which marks the location where the sample had been taken. Variable Rate Technology can then use the location to apply the exact amount of nutrients to parts of the field.

The farmer’s story in implementing sustainable practices has evolved quickly and the continued supportive funding from the legislature is essential to make this transition. Technology is expensive and not all farmers have the capital to make this investment on their own.

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