April 1, 2016

Northeast Wisconsin Farmers Launch Watershed Initiative

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

Under fire by environmental groups, 35 farmers in northeastern Wisconsin have formed an environmental stewardship coalition to create measurable and sustainable improvements to the watershed of the Door County peninsula.

Last fall, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources study found more than a third of wells tested in Kewaunee County failed to meet health standards for drinking water, failing to meet standards for nitrates and total coliform. The study did not go so far as to blame dairy farms, but area farms have been under fire from local environmental groups.

The new farm group, Peninsula Pride Farms, will focus on ways to protect and improve both ground and surface water in Kewaunee and southern Door County. “We can be most effective by working toward solutions in a collaborative manner,” says Don Niles, a dairy farmer and veterinarian in Casco, Wis.

“We will empower farmers with knowledge, training and shared experiences,” says Niles. “And we will demonstrate how the agricultural community is committed to doing its fair share in making improvements.”

The group has the backing of Wisconsin Congressman Reid Ribble (Rep.) and the Nature Conservancy, which partners with individuals, businesses, governments and non-profit organizations across the country to implement science-based conservation practices. “We work with farmers to improve tillage practices, manage manure and other nutrients, utilize cover crops and develop other innovative solutions to keep nutrients and soil on the land and out of our waters,” says John Nelson, a project manager for the Nature Conservancy.

Peninsula Pride Farms is also working with Dennis Frame, a University of Wisconsin Extension educator. Frame has worked with a similar group, Yaharra Pride Farms, which has already kept thousands of pounds of phosphorus out of Madison, Wis., area lakes over the past two years.