Dairy farmers voice support for local communities, sustainability efforts

Peninsula Pride Farms President Don Niles speaks during a gathering Tuesday of Kewaunee County farmers and ag professionals.

By MaryBeth Matzek
MAA Editor

CASCO, Wis. — Farmers and agricultural professionals from Kewaunee County gathered Tuesday morning at a local dairy to voice their commitment to agriculture, the community and the environment.

“We are committed to the belief that agriculture, a strong community and environmentalism can co-exist. Farms are an important part of our local communities,” said Lee Kinnard, the fifth generation of his family to farm in the county. “We take pride in being part of that 1.7 percent of the U.S. population that feeds everyone else in the country and we also take pride in protecting the environment.”

Nearly 100 area farmers and others connected to agriculture attended the gathering at Kinnard Farms Inc. near Casco prior to a state Department of Natural Resources public meeting to collect comments about the water discharge permits for five large farms. Farmers in Kewaunee County have come under scrutiny because of water quality issues.

Larger farms must meet special regulations, including following nutrient management plans, which detail how much manure to apply and where to apply it as farmers use the organic fertilizer to grow crops to feed their cows. The precise plans help farmers avoid sensitive areas so the nutrients stay in the soil.

Farmers in county have taken proactive measures to improve water and soil quality, Kinnard said. “What many don’t understand is that we are all on the same side — to make our community better and to protect our water,” he said.

In March 2016, local farmers joined together to create Peninsula Pride Farms, an environmental stewardship group, to share best practices and promote sustainable initiatives. When the group was formed, the farming community made a commitment to taking ownership of its role in protecting water quality, said Don Niles, a local dairy farmer and veterinarian who serves as president of Peninsula Pride.

“We know we need to do things differently and are using science and technology to help point the way,” Niles said. “We definitely believe that safe drinking water and the agriculture industry can co-exist.”

During the past two years, Peninsula Pride promoted the use of cover crops, which improve soil and water health, said Nathen Nysse, an agronomist and owner of Tilth Agronomy who works with local farmers.

“In 2017, we had four times the number of cover crops planted over 2016. Farmers definitely see the benefit of using them,” Nysse said. “Farmers are innovators by nature and those I work with on a daily basis are always asking how they can improve. And they are willing to try something new — that is key.”

Kinnard also said several Kewaunee farmers are working with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Services and UW Discovery Farms to find additional ways they can improve their practices.

“Farmers know we need to protect the important natural resources that belong to all of us,” he said.