Tours take inside look at dairy farms and water quality

Water Matters was the theme on the June 25 and 26 water tours. This was the fourth year of these tours which provide an opportunity to see up close what farms are doing to protect water quality and how they continue evolving.

Each tour featured two dairy farms and their respective farmers who showcased how their operations deal with water in their milking procedures as well as their conservation efforts on the landscape.

The first stop of the June 25 tour in Southwestern Wisconsin was Banner Ridge Dairy. TJ Roth led the group into his field of winter wheat which was planted after corn silage the previous fall. Cover provided by the wheat protects the field from erosion. The wheat straw will be used to bed his heifers. TJ also discussed the importance of maintaining the grassed waterways they have established in the hilly landscapes of their farm and the importance of their strip cropping practices.

At the afternoon stop on Kieler Farms, the group got a close up look of the new facilities on a wagon tour. Renee Clark, an owner of Kieler Farms, showed off a collection pond system where 100% of leachate water from the feed pad is collected. Renee’s husband Matt Clark took the group into the sand separation building. This facility allows the farm to recycle 97% of sand used for bedding the cows which is a huge cost and efficiency savings for the farm.

Tom Brenner, a passionate, driven farmer kicked off the second day of water tours in Western Wisconsin at his farm in Durand. Tom milks in a 100 cow tie-stall barn and is willing to be creative in order to continue milking cows in a difficult dairy economy. He is trying a new forage mix of sorghum, three kinds of clover and Italian ryegrass. Tom has high hopes for this mix which he plans on feeding as forage to his animals. He believes it will be more efficient because he will be in his field harvesting two times versus three to four times for an alfalfa crop, it will provide comparable tonnage and the quality will be close if not equal to a crop of alfalfa hay.

The bus then traveled to Menomonie to Alfalawn Farm where the Styer family milks 2,000 cows. Dave Styer showed the tour group how water is reused 6 times on the farm, an efficiency they pride themselves on. The farm hosts upwards of 40 tours per year and enjoys showcasing their dedication to the dairy industry and the excellent care of their animals. The farm is one of eight Dunn County Farms involved in the Discovery Farms Nitrogen Use Efficiency Project which tracks nitrogen through the season to evaluate and fine-tune nitrogen management.

An opportunity to sit down and dive deeper into a water quality discussion happened on both tours during a table talk session after lunch. Dr. Mark Borchardt, a leading scientist in recent groundwater studies in Kewaunee Counties and an ongoing study in Southwestern Wisconsin shared results. The Southwestern Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology (SWIGG) study is ongoing and so far, results have shown that percentages of wells with water quality issues in the Grant, Iowa and Lafayette Counties generally exceed statewide averages. Total coliform and nitrates are the contaminates being studied. More information on this can be found here:

On a wrap up from this tour, one attendee shared “It was nice to see two different sized farms with common concern and goals for conservation.” Another attendee said, “Agriculture does not need to be cookie cutter in order to be sustainable.”

These tours were part of a collaborative effort by Professional Dairy Producers®, UW Discovery Farms®, Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Counties Association to learn and discuss agriculture’s role in water quality.

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