What is a Discovery Farm?
A Discovery Farm is an operating, commercial Wisconsin farm participating in an on-farm systems research/ evaluation/ demonstration project. The goal is to span the state's diverse soil types, physical and water characteristics, and livestock and cropping systems. The program has two types of projects: core farms that represent a farming system or setting that needs to be better understood and special projects, which are more targeted and shorter in duration. In addition to the cooperating farms, the program works with a systems farm at UW-Platteville and other researchers at UW-Madison to evaluate nutrient management strategies and practices aimed at reducing nonpoint source pollution while protecting farm profitability. A primary objective is to establish baseline data that can be used by UW Extension and the entire UW system to determine environmental impacts of various farm management practices.
Who proposed the Discovery Farms idea?
Faculty members in UW-Cooperative Extension and the UW-Madison College of Agricultural & Life Sciences proposed the concept after exploring farm-based systems research efforts in the Netherlands.
How is the Discovery Farms program organized?
All aspects of the Discovery Farms program emphasize farmer input and direction. A Steering Committee provides input on nonpoint source pollution research needs, identifies research project possibilities, selects projects for funding and solicits UW Discovery Farms cooperators. It helps with the coordination and dissemination of the research data and information generated. The Steering Committee is chaired by a producer and has representatives from Wisconsin farm, agribusiness and environmental organizations.
A producer selected to conduct a UW Discovery Farm research project will be supported by a Local Advisory Committee chaired by the producer. Working with the farm cooperator, this team will implement the project, monitor progress, collect and analyze data, and share results through a variety of channels. The team will be made up of neighboring farmers, agribusiness consultants, county and other local UW Extension personnel, local representatives of state and federal agencies (NRCS and Land Conservation Departments), local Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) instructors and others. Support and advice from university and agency specialists such as UW Extension and UW Madison will be available to local teams.
What are the goals of the Discovery Farms program?
- Increase understanding of agricultural impacts on soil, water and air quality and work toward reducing adverse impacts
- Integrate outreach and research programs with environmental management and regulatory efforts
- Provide research-based information on agricultural production and natural resource management to public policymakers
- Promote the economic viability of Wisconsin's agriculture across the state's diverse livestock and cropping systems
What is a Core Discovery Farm?
Core Farms are long-term studies that begin with baseline water quality monitoring to identify a farm's impact on the environment by gaging nonpoint source pollution. Farms are selected for the program by a Steering Committee. After selecting a farm, the staff works to find funding for the installation of monitoring equipment. Baseline monitoring is designed to identify the impacts of the farming system on the environment. Best management practices are identified based on the results of the baseline monitoring program. Farmers agree to work with the program for a period of 5-7 years, which provides adequate time for identification of concerns and the evaluation of effectiveness of best management practices.
Who selects and designs Discovery Farms projects?
Following input from farmers, consultants and others, a Steering Committee selects the most important and relevant projects. Then a Project Design Team develops details for each project, including required characteristics of participating farms, variable measurements, measurement protocols, data handling and analysis and study length.
Who decides the Discovery Farms evaluation and demonstration project agenda?
Farmer input and direction at all levels ensure that this program addresses problems most relevant to producers. Discovery Farms projects also respond to needs of county, state and federal agencies such as UW Extension, Land Conservation, DNR, DATCP and NRCS.
How are Discovery Farms projects conducted?
What makes this program unique is that monitoring is conducted by the USGS in cooperation with UW Madison and UW Extension first to determine if an operation is having a negative or positive impact on the environment. All management practices are documented, and we work with the producer to understand how and why they have adopted their farming system. If the farm has a negative impact on the environment, then we work with the producer, their consultants and a group of experts to identify best management practices that will fit the operation and monitor their effectiveness on working Wisconsin farms. Although cooperating farmers are compensated for the substantial effort and additional costs the project may require, every cooperator must agree to do what is necessary to successfully complete the project. The cooperating farmer is the key to project success, but s/he does not stand alone. The farms receive considerable advice and information from the staff of UW Discovery Farms, the USGS, UW Extension and staff from local, state and federal agencies.
How are project findings shared with Wisconsin farmers and others?
Results from a variety of farms are combined and interpreted to produce the best recommendations possible. The results are communicated on an annual basis at hundreds of agricultural meetings around the state connecting our research with UW Extension agents, producers and the general public. Special efforts are made to communicate findings at annual meetings and other gatherings of participating organizations. Findings are distributed through mass media and other routes that reach farmers and agribusinesses.
How many and what kind of core farms are involved in the Program?
Discovery Farms has worked with six core farms and will continue to add operations as farms graduate from the program. Examples of the diversity of our farms include:
- A multi-species livestock operation with in-stream monitoring conducted in paired watershed basins;
- A dairy rotational grazing farm with a single field monitoring site evaluating an overwintered paddock;
- A beef feedlot/grain farm with three in-field sites monitoring individual field losses;
- A dairy CAFO with two in-field surface water and tile sites monitoring individual field losses;
- An organic rotational grazing dairy with three monitoring stations. Two stations are in-stream evaluating losses from the grazing system and the building sites while the other station monitors multi-field losses;
- A swine operation that was selected prior to locating suitable water monitoring sites. After close evaluation, the farm did not have a good pair of basins, so we conducted an odor study and an energy study.
How many and what kind of special projects are involved in the Program?
Discovery Farms has worked with four special projects and will continue to add special projects as needs dictate. Examples of special projects include:
- Four farms in the Wisconsin Buffer Initiative
- Manitowoc County Discovery Farms Area - Two farms: One with a monitoring station on an intermittent stream in a multi-field small watershed and one with three surface water stations and a tile line station evaluating watershed losses.
- Five-year project evaluating the potential losses to surface and groundwater from a headland stack of poultry manure
- Three-year project with NRCS to develop a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning (CNMP) process and protocol for agricultural consultants working with Wisconsin farmers
What is the desired number of Core Discovery Farms?
Between 10 and 20 Discovery Farm sites are envisioned to span the state's diversity of soil types, physical and water characteristics, and cropping and livestock enterprises. The selection of new farms will depend upon available funding and staff.
How long do producers participate in the UW Discovery Farms program?
The program works on some long-term studies (5-7 years) designed to identify the environmental impacts of selected farming systems in varying topographies and settings throughout the state (Core Farms). The program also works on shorter projects (2-4 years) that have already identified an environmental concern (Special Projects).
What is the Environmental Education and Training component of the Program?
Along with Core Farms and Special Projects, the third branch of the program is the environmental education and training section, which works with UW Extension, state and federal agencies and producer groups on the development and delivery of environmental education programs for producers and others in the state.