Analysis: Dodge County farmer-led group reduces risk to water quality
Nurturing soil health is integral to Dodge County Farmers for Healthy Soil and Healthy Water’s innovative work to improve water quality in south-central Wisconsin.
Field practices adopted by the farmer-led watershed conservation group’s livestock and crop farmers are significantly reducing the chance of harmful runoff into streams and lakes, according to an analysis shared by Farmers for Sustainable Food, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and The Nature Conservancy.
The eight-year-old non-profit participated in its first year of a conservation practices survey. Forty-one farms, representing 30,667 acres and 4,352 livestock, completed the survey. The group collaborates with university researchers, environmental groups and community leaders and hosts field days to demonstrate various practices.
Using data about farming practices among participants, the analysis calculated an estimate of the potential impact of various practices compared to more conventional methods on typical crop and livestock farms in Dodge County.
Stopping phosphorus and soil sediment from leaving farm fields improves water quality. The findings show farmers potentially reduced 52,103 tons of sediment erosion, which is equal to the capacity of over 5,200 mid-sized dump trucks, and prevented an estimated 45,426 pounds of phosphorus from leaving the fields. For reference, 1 pound of phosphorus in a lake or stream has the potential to cause the growth of up to 500 pounds of algae.
The assessment also determined that farmers reduced an estimated 9,390 tons of carbon dioxide, equal to emissions from 1,896 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year.
Marty Weiss co-chairs the farmer-led group. He has been practicing conservation since 1990 on his cash crop farm. He feels strongly about the importance of knowing the group’s impact and showing progress. The group also actively participates in field trials.
“This data helps us show our members, county residents and state legislators that we positively impact our soil, surface water and groundwater by reducing phosphorus leaving our field,” Weiss said. “By using our nitrogen use efficiency trials, we can have a more targeted use of nitrogen application rates to protect our natural resources and improve a healthy ecosystem of our soil.”
The Nature Conservancy, a key supporter of the farmer group, brings new soil health solutions.
“This group focuses on hosting many field days, farmers like to share ideas from trials and even brings in nationally recognized farmers to draw hundreds of farmers to their annual meeting,” Steve Richter, TNC’s director of agriculture strategies in Wisconsin, said. “As with all the work done in farmer-led groups across Wisconsin, farmers are doing so much good for conservation because they are allowed to make the decision.”
The farmer group plans to continue expanding its impact throughout the county and aims to have 50% cover crop coverage in Dodge County in five years, starting from the fall of 2022.
The Dodge County farmers have made noticeable changes to their practices. The most recent numbers (2022):
- 16,918 acres of conservation tillage practices (either strip-till or no-till planting)
- 23,800 acres covered by nutrient management plans
- 13,162 acres of cover crops
- 480 acres of low-disturbance manure injection
Potential impact of conservation practices in 2022:
- Phosphorus runoff reduction ― 45,426 pounds
- Sediment erosion reduction ― 52,103 tons