Jim Koepke stands in a field of shoulder high corn during the week before July 4 when was generally expected to be knee-high. He was showing some of the no-till results on the family’s 1,000 acres of cropland in Waukesha and Dodge Counties.
Photo By Gloria Hafemeiser
Koepke farm recognized
A tour of the Koepke farm at Oconomowoc showed that this family, which received the Leopold Conservation Award for operating a sustainable farm that protects the environment, not only talks the talk but they also walk the walk.
The tour on Thursday was sponsored by Sand County Foundation and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and recognized the Koepke family’s efforts to protect the soil, water and air quality on their farm while operating 1,000 acres of land to support their 320-cow dairy herd and young stock.
The Koepke farm is a partnership between brothers Alan, David and Jim and Jim’s son John.
They are one of the first farms in the area to adopt a completely no-till system and utilize conservation practices such as contour strip cropping, diversified crop rotation, nutrient management, cover crops and grassed waterways.
Being active in the agricultural community, both close to home and beyond, the Koepkes’ contributions have helped to shape several important agricultural policies over the years. The efforts they have made in preserving their own land transcends into the work they do preserving agricultural land across the state.
Brent Haglund, president of the Sand County Foundation, commended the family.
“While the list of conservation practices adopted over the years is extensive, the power of the Koepkes’ approach to sustainability is that it is easily adaptable to virtually any farming system,” he said. “It is not designed around expensive or complicated technologies that are farm size specific, or intimidating to users.”
Part of the award is based on the farmers’ effort to educate themselves about production agriculture and sustainability.
Haglund pointed out that the family is a sustainable business involved in community outreach, leadership, a willingness to try new things, and they are leaders in soil and water improvement.
The Koepkes were credited for their good management and attention to detail, based on sound soil and water principles.
Sand County Foundation is one of the first to recognize the need to honor private farms for doing things on their own, without being forced to do so by government regulations or incentive programs.
Casey Langan, executive director of public relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, recognized the Koepke’s ability to do more with less. He said they are producing quality milk with cows that are eating less and raising the cows’ feed in a way that uses fewer inputs, protects the environment and is sustainable.
Art Petersen, a University of Wisconsin-Madison soil science professor who was Alan Koepke’s soil-science instructor back in 1963, was on hand for the special event. He presented Alan with a no-till disc that came from an Allis Chalmers no-till planter that was built especially for the soil science classes at the UW-Madison back in 1963.
While the Koepkes did not immediately adopt the no-till practices Alan learned nearly 50 years ago, they did eventually become leaders in the no-till movement, starting the practice in 1986.
Alan Koepke told the gathering Thursday afternoon that when he came out of college all he wanted to do was farm, but his parents needed to find a place for him on their modest farm.
They had faith in his ability, however, and he joined them in the farming business.
He said he introduced the idea of chisel plowing as a means of conserving soil, while neighbors wondered about his strange practices.
In the 1970s, a corn blight forced the family to return to moldboard plowing, but soil began to wash away and they strived to protect the soil with strip cropping and other practices.
When they got into no-till farming, however, they have built, rather than lost, soil. They say the animal manure is what has made their system work while some other no-till systems have failed.
“There are 1,000 different things living in the soil,” Jim Koepke said. “They do our tillage for us. No-till is a misnomer. It’s really later tillage in fall. Where there is animal manure, there is less build-up of phosphorus at the surface.”
He also points out that the no-till system consumes a lot less fuel.
He relates that this season they used three-quarters of a gallon of fuel an acre to plant corn. Because they do not work their fields, they did not use the large amounts of fuel usually consumed in tillage practices.