Yahara Pride Farms reflects on progress
Monday, March 23, 2020
DEFOREST, Wis. — Although the 2019 growing season was an extremely challenging one, farmers in the Yahara Pride Farms network are optimistic about the work they’re doing and the future of farming in the Yahara Watershed in southern Wisconsin. The group’s annual conference brought reflections on their conservation efforts with a nod to the future as they build on what they’ve learned and encourage more farmers to become involved.
Future goals and aspirations formed the core of the Yahara Pride Farms Watershed-wide Conference on March 5 in DeForest. Yahara Pride Farms (YPF) is a farmer-led non-profit organization working to improve soil and water quality. The group strives to help advance new ideas and technology that balance water quality improvement with farm sustainability and profitability.
“We can see we are getting a meaningful, cumulative benefit out of what farmers are doing,” said Pat Murphy, conservation planner with Yahara Pride Farms.
Murphy gave an update on the incentive programs YPF offers to its farmer members. Those include cover crops to help prevent soil erosion, low-disturbance deep tillage paired with cover crop plantings, low-disturbance manure injection, strip tillage, headland stacking of manure/composting and custom packages of combined practices.
“We’ve learned systems of practices are more effective than individual practices,” he said.
Mark Aquino, secretary director for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), provided a brief overview of how the DNR is contributing to the farmer-led watershed movement.
Mark Reidel from the water resources management division of the DNR spoke about finding common ground among farmers as they all work for soil health and water quality. He emphasized how tough it is for farmers because they’re pulled in several different directions but said there are ways to overcome those challenges. Reidel quoted Albert Einstein to make his point about farmers keeping open minds: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Murphy moderated a panel presentation centered on best conservation practices and lessons learned with Chuck Ripp, a dairy farmer from Dane and also the YPF secretary; Scott Maier, a dairy farmer from Waunakee and also YPF treasurer and Jeff Endres, a dairy farmer from Waunakee and YPF chairman. Maier is using cover crops and conveyance systems on his farms. He has realized the value of building soil health and keeping an open mind toward change. Endres has been composting for six years and his current compost system takes about eight weeks to achieve compost that can be spread on fields or headland stacked. Ripp is using low-disturbance manure injection and has learned how crucial it is to know what nutrients he’s putting on his fields in an effort not to over-apply. “You have to know your fields because your neighbors do not want your manure, so communicate and plan ahead,” Ripp said.
Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District Director of Ecosystem Services Martye Griffin and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi gave short partner updates before lunch.
Finishing out the day, Kevin Shelley of the UW Nutrient and Pest Management Program presented on considerations for planting over-wintering cover crops after corn silage. Shelley said the benefits are numerous despite several challenges. “Corn silage doesn’t leave much crop residue to cover the soil because the entire plant is harvested, so cover crops are a natural solution,” he said.
About Yahara Pride Farms: Established in 2012, Yahara Pride Farms is a farmer-led 501c(3) non-profit organization that strives to preserve agricultural heritage while simultaneously encouraging farmers to engage in proactive environmental stewardship within the Yahara Watershed. Participating farms employ practices that result in the preservation and enhancement of soil and water resources for today, and for generations to come. In 2018, farmers in the program reduced phosphorus delivery to Madison lakes and the Yahara River by 22,000 lbs. The 2019 phosphorus report will be released in July.