Over 350 third and fourth graders from area schools, and close to 3000 members of the general public and partners attended the two-day Farm City Days in Menomonie, WI, Sept. 9-10, 2016.
The agricultural education event was hosted by the Styer family at Alfalawn Farm, a 2,250 cow dairy, with 3,200 crop acres in Dunn County.
Fourth generation farmer brothers Randy, Dave and Dale Styer, their wives and children, all pitch in to run the dairy. Key partners of the day included the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Dunn County UW-Extension, Dunn County Land and Water Conservation, Chippewa Valley Technical College, and others. “We feel very strongly about educating the public concerning modern day agriculture and getting the word out about where their food comes from,” said Karen Styer, Dave’s wife.
Focus on conservation
The Styers focus their farm efforts on soil and water conservation practices to help the environment. The event highlighted displays, guided wagon tours, educational booths, demonstrations, and showcased modern agriculture and soil and water practices on the farm. NRCS demonstrated a live, cold water, healthy stream habitat. The stream included rocky moving headwater, sand and sediment, plants, bugs, fish, larvae, worms, and more.
“NRCS is here to educate kids on healthy streams; what can they do to help, even simple things like throwing away their garbage in a trash can. We’re also showing what kind of bugs and fish they would see in healthy stream ecology from headwaters on down to where it meets bigger rivers and lakes,” said KaYing Vang, NRCS Dunn County Soil Conservationist.
Alfalawn Farm also does its part to contribute to healthy natural resources as well. A water sample taken from a trout stream which flows thru the property showed it to be very high quality further adding evidence that their conservation practices are working.
The Styers have partnered with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program in the past. They most recently partnered with NRCS through Conservation Technical Assistance at the local Dunn County Service Center.
“The Styers are huge advocates of conservation and sustainability, always wanting to do their part to use innovative technologies to help conserve our natural resources; we’re happy to collaborate on ideas to achieve this,” said John Sippl, NRCS Dunn County District Conservationist. They farm most 3,200 acres on the contour to slow down and prevent erosion, washouts, and gullies. They also installed erosion dams and grassed waterways to prevent gulleys, keeping the flow of water slow and steady, and to prevent soil and other nutrients from washing into streams and rivers.
Practicing no-till since 1997, the Styers leave soil structure intact and plant residue on top of the ground to prevent erosion. They also plant rye as a cover crop after corn silage harvest. Cover crops help protect soil during cold months, while also preserving biological activity within the soil as well as providing nutrients to plant next year’s crops into.
Conserving water and energy
The Styers also partnered with NRCS in nutrient management planning, utilizing manure pits and storage to prevent the possible seepage or runoff as opposed to pile storage. They conserve water and energy on the farm also. Water is pumped up from the well and run through a plate cooler, which cools the milk, reducing energy the chiller uses, then, the water is taken either into the sand separation system where it is used to wash sand used for bedding, into the misting system for hot days, used as drinking water for the cows, or used to wash down the barns and holding areas.
“Every gallon of water pumped from the well is used 3 to 6 times on the farm,” said Dave Styer. The Styers also conserve energy by using energy efficient barn fans, energy efficient LED lighting and T4 fluorescent bulbs. They take it one step further by monitoring their energy usage and consumption peaks, adjusting peak consumptions in order to reduce energy drawdown on the local grid.
New expansions were showcased during the event. They installed a 60 stall rotary parlor with direct loading onto tanker-trucks parked indoors on cement. They also built a cross-ventilated freestall barn with 1,650 sand-bedded stalls with feed alleys, and a calf-rearing facility that includes 42 individual starter stalls along with a robotic feeding system for calves up to two months of age.
The farm currently has capacity for raising 2,000 heifers on-site. They’ve also added new manure pits, a commodity shed and feed area, and a flush flume sand-reclamation system. This new system saves water and is sustainable, washing and reusing sand.
“We have about 98% of the sand reclaimed through the system. We haven’t added sand since Christmas last year,” said Karen Styer.
“Our family has always been strong advocates of agriculture and education,” said Dave Styer.
The Styers open their farm up by hosting, touring, and educating schools, general public, groups, partners, and more, year-round.
“Farm City Days is a great opportunity to promote conservation education and the difference sustainable agriculture practices make to conserve our natural resources; Alfalawn Farm is definitely a top tier host to be showcased,” Sippl said.