DEFOREST — According to Dennis Frame, a former Extension agent who now owns his own consulting firm, farmers have to be free to experiment and try new ideas, matching farming systems with the landscape of their operations. Farmer-led conservation groups, like Yahara Pride Farms in southern Wisconsin, are the perfect avenues to allow them to do just that.
Yahara Pride Farms held its annual watershed-wide conference March 7, inviting farmers, agribusiness professionals and community members to learn more about the nonprofit organization that encourages modern sustainable agriculture practices to improve soil and water quality in the Yahara Watershed through a cost-share and incentive program, certification programs, the sharing of data reports and educational events.
Frame, who also serves as the resource manager for Yahara Pride Farms, again provided attendees to the conference with a report card of how farmers did in the watershed for 2017 and how the information compared with other years of data collection.
In the area of cover crops, the 33 farms involved in the group planted 212 fields equalling 4,483 acres in 2017, down by 1,368 acres over 2016. Having these acres of cover crops allowed for a reduction of 7,300 pounds of phosphorus, which can make its way into lakes and streams.
Fifteen farms participated in the organization’s low-disturbance manure-injection program in 2017, enrolling 223 fields equalling 3,885 tillable acres. The average phosphorus reduction on these fields was 1.4 pounds per acre, with a total phosphorus reduction of 6,039 pounds.
Participation in Yahara Pride Farms’ low-disturbance manure injection has grown from just 361 tillable acres in the program in 2013 to the 3,885 tillable acres recorded in 2017. In 2016, 1,203 tillable acres were enrolled in the program, showing growth even from the previous year.
Frame believes the northern part of the watershed has the biggest potential to grow in this area.
The combined use of cover crops, low-disturbance manure injection, low-disturbance deep tillage, strip tillage, headland stacking manure and other combined practices allowed for Yahara Pride Farms to keep 18,859 pounds of phosphorus from running off their fields in 2017.
“I remember when you were first talking about doing this stuff,” Frame said. “These practices make a whole lot of sense in this watershed.”
He also offered four keys to success for farmers reaching toward sustainability but also desiring to make a profit: control soil loss and eliminate gully erosion; reduce phosphorus accumulation at the soil’s surface by incorporating it into the soil with as little soil disturbance as possible; use SNAP+ to get ideas on crop rotations, proper nutrient application rates and tillage; and be really careful with timing.
However, “there is no one answer,” he said. “Think about your farm and your conditions and realize there is no silver bullet that solves nutrient and sediment loss.”
For more information on Yahara Pride Farms, including the 2017 phosphorus report and information on their cost-share program, visit www.yaharapridefarms.org.