The farms behind the dataset

Farmers are the backbone of Discovery Farms. By opening up their farms to research, farmer participants unlock our Programs’ capabilities to generate data to find workable solutions that address environmental concerns. At the Discovery Farms Summit held in January, a panel of Discovery Farms participants had an opportunity to share what they have learned through research conducted on their farms.

Dennis Mitchell is a farmer in St Croix County, Wisconsin. He was a Discovery Farms participant from 2010 to 2017 as a part of the Dry Run Watershed Project. Mitchell farms with his son Kyle and his brother Steve. They have a 100 cow dairy and crop 3600 acres.

“I was all for it right away. We were getting a lot of pushback from regulation. I wanted to see how we were doing on our farm. I also wanted to see if we could improve things. If we get some actual facts and good figures, we can pass it on when talking to people,” Dennis explained when talking about how and why he became a Discovery Farms participant.

Dennis’s farm uses irrigation and they track how much water is applied with rain gages that contain a sensor in the ground. This has been quite a benefit to ensure they are efficient with their water applications. It was a benefit to have irrigation over one of the Discovery Farms sites on his farm to learn the effects it has on runoff content.

Dennis also shared his biggest lesson from being a Discovery Farms participant, “We were no-tilling our soybeans since the 90s. We started having problems with slugs. I heard that if you want to get rid of slugs you can use one pass of tillage with a disk in the spring. Sure enough, one of the years we did that, there was a major rainfall and it showed up on our runoff station. Needless to say, that was the last year we did that. If we can keep the soil intact, that’s good. We want to keep it intact. So we deal with some slugs in our soybeans from no-till.”

Their farm makes conservation a priority and incorporates waterways throughout their farm. Dennis highlighted his concern for all farms being treated the same when it comes to regulation based on modeling. His goal was to have his farm’s involvement in the Discovery Farms Program show conservation efforts can make a difference and that each farm might have a different approach that works for them.

“Every farm, every part of the state is so different. It’s hard to lump sum answers. We saw night and day differences, there was no comparison from Discovery Farms Monitoring three miles apart in our watershed, ” Dennis shared as the panel wrapped up, “you have to involve the farm to determine what works best for their situation.”

Jared Nordick was also on the participant panel and is a past Discovery Farms Minnesota participant. Discovery Farms Tile Monitoring took place on the Nordick Farm beginning in 2012. His farm is located in Wilkin County near the Minnesota and South Dakota border. Jared farms with his dad growing corn and soybeans. At first, his dad was skeptical of hosting research on their farm. Jared said to his father, “Well don’t we want to know how we are doing on our farm?” Jared said his dad came on board pretty quickly soon after they talked about the project.

“There was a lot of mud in the Red River Valley last year,” Jared exclaimed. He noticed the poor soil structure on some of their farm fields and is determined to incorporate new farming practices to make improvements. One practice he is proud of that they perform on their farm is including filter strips. These strips filter nutrients from the water before they hit the stream.

“We have had over 1000 people come looking at our farm. Canada has been looking at us a lot, so having Discovery Farms tile monitoring has helped as they look to do more tiling and the implications it could have, “ concluded Jared.

Jared wrapped up by saying,  “On a farm, you have to find out what works for you and use the resources you have available.”

Discovery Farms values our participants, and as Warren Formo, Minnesota Agricultural Resources Center Executive Director stated when he opened this panel, “Without the farmers willing to allow research on their farms, our programs would not exist.” §

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