Jeff and Brenda Elsinger and their two grown children, Mike and Jenny, hosted the Dodge-Fond du Lac County Forage Council Twilight meeting Wednesday, June 18, at their dairy farm near Lomira.
The Elsingers started their farming business 25 years ago on a much smaller scale. Brenda and Jeff bought 35 cows from Jeff's dad, set out on their own, put in a pipeline and began their dairy business.
The two worked side-by-side, and their children were always with them, riding in feed carts and helping out as they became old enough. Their interest in the farm grew, and today, Mike and Jenny farm full time with their parents on a farm that has grown to 550 cows and enough cropping acres to support the herd, with some left to sell. They also get help from a staff of dedicated employees.
The family raises corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and peas, and their cropping focus is on minimum tillage.
During the meeting at the Elsinger farm, participants learned about pesticide restrictions on forage crops.
Glenn Nice, University of Wisconsin Pesticide Applicator Training program manager, explained how to understand the label restrictions and correctly interpret the information for different rotations, harvest and grazing intervals and mixed stands.
Nice oversees the PAT Program, which trains in 17 commercial and private pesticide categories, providing program management and training material development. He has authored and co-authored several books and manuals on weed control and identification.
Nice explained that pesticides are measured by half-life. A product may break down and be half as effective in a month or in six months or more.
Breakdown occurs from various things, but the biggest thing that breaks down a pesticide is microbes. As a result, most pesticides break down into carbon.
Another contributor to the breakdown is sun.
Pesticides can also leach into the soil.
"Soil is one of the most variable things farmers deal with," Nice said. "Scientists have not even identified all the microbes that are in soil."
Following this basic information about the breakdown of pesticides, he added, "I want you to understand that every pesticide is different. They break down at different rates and by different things. Some break down from sun exposure, others from water and some from microbes in the soil.
"Since every pesticide is different, the restrictions on each one are different."
He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency establishes tolerances for different chemicals. "We're talking about very small amounts. Science is so advanced that it can find very minute amounts of anything."
Nice listed the reasons for restrictions associated with pesticides:
· the label is the law;
· to control the introduction of chemical residues above the accepted limits;
· to assure the pesticide does not get into the meat or milk;
· to assure the pesticide does not get into the ground or surface water;
· to assure the pesticide does not injure sensitive crops; and
· to be safe, if the knowledge base is not there.
He said the most common concern farmers have when using pesticides is whether it will damage crops that are not targeted or crops that are planted in the same area next year.
"That's why it is important to know how the chemical breaks down," he said. "Some chemicals are fine in a pasture because they pass right through the livestock and come out in the manure. The problem is, where that manure is spread, the chemical will kill what is growing there.
"The active ingredient can persist in both the manure and the plant material. I know of a case where that plant material was used as a mulch for prize roses. The carryover of the herbicide in the mulch killed the roses.
"I know reading a label can be boring reading, but it is very important to know how the chemical works and to carefully follow all the restrictions."