WATERTOWN — When Matt Krueger, executive director of Wisconsin Land + Water, asked Jared Winter, a conservation technician with Dodge County Land and Water Conservation Department, to describe farmer Tony Peirick, he was surprised by what he heard.

While Krueger had done a little research on this year’s Conservation Farmer of the Year, he didn’t realize just how integral Peirick has been in educating Dodge County farmers on various conservation practices — sharing his passion for soil health and conservation, and gently providing a nudge to farmers who may be curious enough to try some of these practices.

“Tony has a desire to connect with other farmers and show them how soil health works,” Krueger said. “He promotes confidence and tries new things, and he’s not afraid to make mistakes. I’d say that’s a pretty special gift.”

He also referenced a quote from Wendell Berry, acknowledging that the true measure of agriculture isn’t in the sophistication of its equipment, the size of its income or the statistics of its productivity, but in the good health of its land.

“That could have been said by Tony Peirick,” Krueger said. “The quote rings very true here.”

More than 50 people gathered at T&R Dairy on Aug. 23 to celebrate just this, honoring Tony, his brother Ralph, and their families as the organization’s Conservation Farm Family of the Year. The Peiricks have been using no-till practices on their farm since 1994, incorporated cover crops in 2005, and have been planting green since 2010.

Peirick is also an active member of the Dodge County Farmers for Healthy Soil — Healthy Water, serving as co-chair for the farmer-led watershed group. He has been involved with that group since 2015, helping them achieve many successes with educational events and incentive programs across the county.

His involvement with the watershed group and his commitment to conservation have made Peirick a popular candidate for speaking to other farmer-led conservation groups as well.

“Tony does not seek recognition or fanfare. He simply strives to get farmers, lake groups and government agencies to work together to create a sustainable future for farming in Wisconsin,” said Winter, who has worked with Peirick through the watershed group.

Brad Pfaff, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, shared his pride in Wisconsin’s farmer-led watershed groups, like Dodge County Farmers for Healthy Soil — Healthy Water, which is arguably one of the most successful groups of its kind in the state. He also applauded the Peiricks for their continued dedication to conservation.

Tony and Ralph’s father purchased the farm in 1942, with Tony remembering his first visit to the county conservation office at just 16 years old. In 1982, the brothers bought the farm from their father and seeing innovative practices on the horizon, started incorporating them into the operation.

The Peiricks’ sons, Dan and Josh, and their wives and children, are all active in the farming operation now, too, helping to milk 200 cows twice a day, tend to 1,100 acres of crops and dabble in pasture-raising Waygu beef. All of this was on display at this year’s Conservation Observance Day, where attendees had the chance to learn more about each facet of the Peirick farm, including a 60 inch interseeded corn experiment, a soil health discussion and advice on planting green, rolling cereal rye, multi-species cover crop mixes and no-till practices.

“This farm and its practices are a model for Dodge County and farmers statewide,” said Eric Allness, Wisconsin’s assistant conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “And this is only the beginning. Ten years from now, I think we’d still be impressed with the innovative things that have been done here.”

“We’re lucky in Dodge County to have the support of local people and town government,” Peirick said.