Dodge County Farmers for Healthy Soil & Healthy Water (DCF HSHW) brought together farmers, community members and industry experts to share conservation research outcomes and celebrate their continued efforts to make a positive impact on the environment.
The Soil Health Expo took place on Wednesday, Feb. 7, drawing more than 130 attendees to the Juneau Community Center.
DCF president Tony Peirick of T and R Dairy Farm, LLC welcomed attendees. He shared the group’s accomplishments from the past year, including the seven events they hosted. He spoke about goals for 2024, stating that the group wishes to increase its community engagement and membership over the coming year.
Featured speaker Blake Vince of Merlin, Ontario, Canada, shared stories about his conservation studies and worldwide travels. Vince was a recipient of a Nuffield Farming Scholarship, a prestigious honor awarded to global agricultural leaders, which allowed him to study cover crops and the importance of biodiversity.
During his presentation, Vince discussed the benefits of planting cover crops and the importance of having biodiversity within an ecosystem. Monocultures, he said, don’t occur in natural environments and can impact soil health.
Vince challenged farmers to try new things, keep learning and share their own stories with others. He hopes farmers will use their voices to inspire others to keep improving.
DCF’s 2023 Member Conservation Practice Survey results were presented by Farmers for Sustainable Food data collection specialist Shawn Wesener.
“This group really excels in no-till usage and planting green,” Wesener said.
Based on the findings, 48% of the 36,507 cropped acres surveyed had cover crops and 34% were planted green. The 2023 survey gathered data from 49 respondents, encompassing a total of 39,232 acres, 5,959 dairy animals and 2,843 beef animals.
Jeff Hadachek, University of Wisconsin Madison assistant professor in ag and applied economics discussed the finances behind adding wheat to the crop rotation. Corn and soybeans generally dominate crop rotations in Dodge County and throughout the U.S., driven by price, he explained. During his presentation, he examined how yields change over time in a corn-soy-wheat rotation.
“Realizing what the costs are can help us move forward on our farms,” Hadachek said. “Ultimately, in addition to being environmentally sustainable, practices also need to be economically sustainable.”
Attendees also heard a series of Lightning Talks focusing on local and regional research projects.
Bill Stangel of Soil Solutions Consulting presented results from a two-year nitrogen optimization pilot program through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The project aims to build confidence in decision-making regarding nitrogen application rates on the farm.
Jim Stute, an independent research agronomist from East Troy, provided an update on the first year of a two-year research trial focused on the relationship between rye cover crop termination and weed suppression.
The Sand County Foundation field projects director Greg Olson spoke about a soil health project comparing conventional fields to no-till in the 2023 drought. Using soil sensor data, Olson found that soil health systems had better water infiltration and marginally better water retention.
“We were encouraged by the number of farmers that attended the Soil Health Expo,” Tony Peirick said. “This group works year-round to help farmers implement new practices that are sustainable and productive; it is good to see the growing interest in the rest of what we are doing among our neighbors.”
Closing out the meeting, Jeff Gaska and President Tony Peirick were re-elected to serve another term on the DCF board of directors. Brendon Blank transitioned to an advisor role and Isabella Kraus was elected to fill that board position.
Other board members are Vice President Marty Weiss, Treasurer David Roche, Secretary Isabella Kraus, Andy Wyse, Jeff Gaska, and Randy Braker. Advisors are Bill Stangel, Will Fulwider, Bill Nass, John Bohonek, Robert Bird, Andrew Condon, Phillip Laatsch, Jared Winter and Dale Macheel.
Caption: (Back L-R) Randy Braker, Brendon Blank, David Roche, Jeff Gaska, Phillip Laatsch, Andy Wyse, Tony Peirick, Bill Stangel, Will Fulwider (Front L-R) John Bohonek, Dale Macheel, Marty Weiss and Isabella Kraus. Missing from photo: Bill Nass, Jared Winter, Andrew Condon and Robert Bird.