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World Water Day celebrated in the soil

The best solution to smelly, unhealthy algae blooms in the Fox River and Green Bay might be really big radishes, like the 16-incher Derek Van De Hey of New Horizons Dairy shows off in the photo above.

At least that’s among dozens of conservation farming practices that big manufacturing employers are hoping will cut down on non-point sources of phosphorus and help their factories meet discharge permits at a lower cost. In plain language, reducing the amount of manure running into the streams is cheaper than cutting it out of manufacturing processes.

Improving Wisconsin’s water quality was the subject of the Wisconsin Water Week virtual conference March 8-12 presented by the group Wisconsin Lakes. It came a couple weeks before World Water Day, March 22. Among the most hopeful topics was the growing conservation ag movement. In northeast Wisconsin, that means the Fox Demo Farms.

Farmer Dan Brick

Farmers have teamed up with nonprofits like The Nature Conservancy and Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance to try conservation techniques or see how they work for their neighbors through field days or just a ride through a field.

“The Demonstration Farm Network has been a great opportunity to work with a handful of farms to demonstrate new concepts and techniques to improve soil health, reduce runoff and maintain profitability for area farms,” Greg Baneck, an Outagamie County conservationist, says.

“The county has been fortunate to be able to purchase equipment through grants from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, The Nature Conservancy and the Community Foundation and make this equipment available to area farmers to try various new conservation techniques on their own farms before making their own investments for their own equipment.”

Among the most popular is an interseeder that plants a cover crop in standing corn and a spreader that injects liquid manure into the soil. Both techniques reduce runoff. An interseeder and a UTV and trailer to drive interested farmers to see the results in the field were purchased with grants from the Sustain the Bay Fund within the Community Foundation for the Demo Farms in Outagamie and Brown counties.

Watch and see why farmers are turning to conservation agriculture:

Dan Brick, of Brickstead Dairy in Greenleaf, bought in on the movement very early. He says the program’s success is proven by amount of green you see where there used to be bare dirt.

“You really can tell who’s playing and who’s paying,” Brick says.

Farms all over Brown County seem to be at least testing one conservation technique. Many are buying equipment without borrowing the demonstrators, he says.

These conservation-minded farmers intersperse a variety of plants between the corn rows to avoid bare soil that is more susceptible to runoff. Usually included in the mix are large radishes that send roots deep into the soil, breaking it up without the use of a plow. No-till planting also reduces erosion.

They measure the amount of phosphorus and suspended dirt particles as the surface water flows off the field. Results have been good enough that the Fox Demo Farm model has been duplicated in Door and Kewaunee counties, the Upper Fox (Waupaca, Shawano, Winnebago, Marquette, Green Lake and Ozaukee counties) and the Between the Lakes Demo Farm Network in Calumet, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties.

The research and educational efforts are funded by grants from the Great Lakes Rehabilitation Initiative and county land and water conservation offices.


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