Five watershed farmers, three lessons learned

Five watershed farmers, three lessons learned

For seven years UW Discovery Farms has worked with dozens of farmers in the Jersey Valley and Dry Run watersheds. Throughout our time in Vernon/Monroe and St. Croix counties we have monitored edge-of-field, stream, and lake water quality; assisted with nutrient management planning; conducted whole farm walkovers; assessed nitrogen use efficiency; and offered numerous events to share project results and set the stage for farmer-to-farmer learning.

As our formal projects wrap up in the watersheds (water quality monitoring ended last fall) we have conducted a series of interviews with farmers who have taken part in the projects. Throughout these interviews several common themes appeared. Below are excerpts from five interviews to highlight these themes from the voice of the participating farmers.

Pick the when and where of manure spreading wisely.

Monitoring gave us hard evidence, like it or not. Most of our runoff comes from the spring melt so we are definitely thinking twice about putting anything out there in late fall or on frozen ground, because it needs a chance to work into the ground. We have quit spreading manure on hillsides during winter months. When winter spreading is necessary, we consider timing and avoid highly erodible land.

Cover crops, try them.

Try adding cover crops after corn silage. This practice might just be the step you need in the next phase of soil building on your farm. You just might get hooked after experiencing less weed competition to start the year off, more green ground time, and the benefits of erosion control. Also, consider leaving alfalfa for a fourth year and then cutting off a first crop. In September, drill rye and harvest it the following spring for forage and directly plant corn into that ground. We have found this to be the economic and environmental win-win we’re always after.

Continue learning and connecting. Protecting water resources is a group effort.

Why participate in something like the Discovery Farms watershed project? To be a part of the solution not part of the problem. I believe it will take a unified effort by all producers to protect our waterways.

Ask yourself: What kind of results are we getting from the conservation practices we are implementing?  Is this how we really want to be doing this? Learn from other farmers. If I can talk directly to another farmer or go to their farm and see a practice that works in action, it makes me realize that if it works for him, maybe that would work for me too.

Everyone at Discovery Farms would like to thank the farmers who contributed to this article as well as all the Jersey Valley and Dry Run watershed farmers who learned along with us over the past seven years. We are honored to consider you all a part of the Discovery Farms family.

For more information from farmer interviews read Improving water quality knowledge through a focus on partnership: A University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms case study published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.§