FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 7, 2019
For more information, contact:
Maria Woldt, communications
Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance
Phone: (608) 577-4345 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance inspires, looks ahead
DARLINGTON, Wis. — In just two years, the Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance (LASA) has grown to include 23 member-farms whose land covers 40,000 acres with more than 14,000 cows.
At a time when the struggling farm economy dominates the narrative, the group is motivated to explore conservation practices and how farmers can impact water quality and their bottom line. LASA, a nonprofit farmer-led group, is focused on protecting and improving the water quality and other natural resources in Lafayette County in southwestern Wisconsin.
“We have many great farmers in this area who work hard to safeguard our water and soil. But we can all do better. Our goal is to learn from one another and stand out as leaders in this area,”said Jim Winn, a dairy farmer from Wiota and president of LASA.
More than 100 farmers, community members and agribusiness professionals came together recently for LASA’s second annual meeting in Darlington. Speakers shared their passion for conservation and inspired attendees to find their conservation passion.
The Feb 28 meeting came with a sense of added urgency for the group.
In January, results from an initial stage of private well testing in Lafayette and neighboring counties indicated 42 percent of wells tested in a random sample were contaminated from nitrates and pathogens. Further research will assess well construction and geological characteristics and identify the source of contamination, for example human v. bovine waste.
“Lafayette County is one of the most agriculturally dependent counties in the state, so we knew farmers had to be part of the conversation when this study was started,” Winn said.
The purpose of the two-year Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology study, which LASA is helping pay for, is to provide high-level information on how to ensure safe drinking water.
“When we live in the world, we change the world. If the source of nitrates or other contamination is removed, the groundwater will eventually clean up,” state geologist Ken Bradbury, director of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey-University of Wisconsin Extension, said during a presentation about the project.
“Earning trust does not mean only talking”
The conference’s keynote speaker, Don Niles, is a veterinarian, owner of Dairy Dreams farm in Casco and president of Peninsula Pride Farms, a farmer-led watershed conservation group in Kewaunee and southern Door counties similar to LASA. Niles, whose group is three years old, encouraged attendees to fight for safe, clean drinking water and to reconnect with customers who have lost touch with agriculture.
Niles suggested farmers put forth as much effort as possible to get the public to trust them. In order to earn that trust, farmers must own their share of responsibility in the water contamination issues.
“Take a leap of faith and admit some responsibility, and then take steps to fix it,” he said. “Earning trust does not mean only talking; it requires doing things and actually taking action.”
Creating a baseline, measuring progress
One way that LASA hopes to earn public trust is by conducting a conservation survey among its members and measuring the change in acres over time.
“We ask our members about conservation practices on their farms. It’s a requirement to be part of the group,” Winn said. “Personal information is kept confidential, and our aggregate summary is available to the public.”
In 2018, LASA members completed a survey of 14 practices including cover crops, no till, reduced tillage and nutrient stewardship. Using estimates from the USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project, LASA members documented an estimated reduction of 42,648 pounds of phosphorous and 13,285 pounds of nitrogen. These figures include:
- 4,796 acres of cover crops, resulting in a reduction of 3,741 pounds of phosphorous and 13,285 pounds of nitrogen.
- 9,768 acres of conservation tillage (vertical till, strip till), resulting in a reduction 8,694 pounds of phosphorous.
- 12,537 acres of no-till farming,resulting in a reduction of 30,214 pounds of phosphorous.
These numbers will be used as a baseline and the change in acres and practices will be measured over time to show LASA’s progress.
Farmer experiences and innovating for efficiency
A farmer panel provided attendees with real-life experiences of three Wisconsin farmers as they navigate through the use of cover crops and reduced tillage on their farms: Dan Brick, a dairy farmer from Greenleaf; Jason Rowe, a grain farmer from Cuba City; and Ricky Kratz, a dairy farmer from Slinger. These farmers stressed the importance of soil health and explained their farms in detail. They also talked about the long-term economic benefits of making a commitment to conservation, which is important during these tough economic times for farmers.
Heidi Johnson, crop and soils educator with Dane County University of Wisconsin-Extension, and John Cassens, agronomist with Ag-Tech Air, gave presentations about seeding cover crops using an airplane.
Johnson said barley, oats, wheat and cereal rye are the most preferable cover crops to seed aerially because they have a high rate of success while large-seed legumes like peas and soybeans have the lowest success rate.
If slugs are present in the field, aerial seeding is probably not the best idea, she said, suggesting instead brassicas, legumes or annual rye grass.
Cassens promotes aerial seeding as a way to maximize efficiency, especially during the corn silage harvest. While this can be a slightly more expensive option, aerial seeding allows for earlier planting than farmers can do with tractors.
Speakers at the meeting urged the audience not to take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to conservation because every farm is unique. Instead, farmers should challenge themselves to experiment with conservation and find the right mix for their system.
“This is a journey, not a destination and we are here to support and push each other to advance and innovate,” Winn said.
About Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance: Established in 2017, Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance is a farmer-led 501c(3) non-profit organization with a vision of a community where farmers and friends of agriculture work together to protect and improve our water quality and environment. The group is composed of 23 member-farms representing nearly 40,000 acres and more than 14,000 cows in Lafayette County. To learn more go to lafayetteagstewardship.org.
Tweet about this: Farmer-led group @LafayetteAg says #conservation is “a journey, not a destination and we are here to support and push each other to advance and innovate”
Editor’s Note: [Photo]Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance held its second annual meeting on Feb. 28. Click on the links below for full resolutions images. After clicking the links, right click on images to download.
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Jim Winn is a dairy farmer from Wiota and president of LASA.
Ken Bradbury is the state geologist and director of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey-University of Wisconsin Extension. Ken presented initial findings from a three-county water study currently in progress for Southwest Wisconsin.
Don Niles served as the keynote speaker. “Take a leap of faith and admit some responsibility, and then take steps to fix it,” he said.
Panel discussion: L to R: Dan Brick, Ricky Kratz and Jason Rowe served as panelists with Heidi Johnson as the moderator.
Aerial seeding of Cover crops: Heidi Johnson, crop and soils educator with Dane County University of Wisconsin-Extension said barley, oats, wheat and cereal rye are the most preferable cover crops to seed aerially because they have a high rate of success while large-seed legumes like peas and soybeans have the lowest success rate.
John Cassens, Agronomist with Ag-Tech Air promotes aerial seeding as a way to maximize efficiency, especially during the corn silage harvest.