Manitowoc - Because “we're looking for solutions,” the leading spokesman for Peninsula Pride Farms believes the days of launching “mortars from two trenches” are over in Kewaunee and southern Door counties.
But that doesn't mean that the task of protecting both surface and groundwater in the area has been completed, veterinarian and Dairy Dreams farm owner Don Niles told his audience at the 2017 annual meeting of the Manitowoc County Forage Council.
Niles recalled that he came to the area in 1983 as a veterinarian with the clinic in Casco. Part of the reason was that Kewaunee County has the 2nd highest concentration of dairy cows in any county east of the Mississippi River, trailing only Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.
Ironically, new and non-farm residents in the area used that statistic as an accusation against the dairy sector, Niles observed. This made it necessary for the dairy sector to “reintroduce itself” to the area residents, he remarked.
Foundation of Peninsula Pride
The key to organizing Peninsula Pride in February of 2016 was getting the dairy farmers who became the core of its membership to “accept ownership” on at least a portion of water pollution incidents that were occurring in the region, Niles pointed out This happened in the wake to public outcries about the pollution of numerous wells in the area with nitrates or bacterial coliforms, he noted.
A recent study by an entity not affiliated with Peninsula Pride determined that 60 percent of the contaminated well incidents could be traced to an agricultural source while 40 percent were tied to contaminants in the approximately 500 million gallons of human waste disposed of per year in the area, Niles reported. Regarding the contamination of private wells with nitrates and coliforms, he said the percentage in Kewaunee County is actually lower than that for a few other counties in the state.
In addition to the groundwater which supplies water both on farms and at rural residences, the concern extends to the surface runoffs of water laden with contaminants and sediments to both Lake Michigan and the bay of Green Bay, Niles stated.
While it is proper for the dairy and agriculture sectors to tout their contributions to food production, they also need to acknowledge that “the environmental issue has to do with us,” Niles stressed. Particular concerns on significant portions of the landscape in the area are the underground karst geological features and the shallow soils, he added.
Starting with 30 farmer members, Peninsula Pride has now grown to 43 dairy and crop farmer members who crop some 57,000 acres, which represent 40 percent of the tillable acres in the membership area which extends north to Sturgeon Bay in Door County, Niles reported. The dairy operations, with 60 to 6,000 cows for a total of 32,000, also account for 40 percent of the cows in the region, he added.
Depending on the number of cows, annual membership dues are $500 or $100. Two grants of $20,000 each have been received from the Wisconsin of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin have also made a grant.
Peninsula Pride has obtained a federal 501 (c) 3 tax deductible status for donations. Niles was pleased to note that a bank without an agricultural portfolio has been one of the contributors and that other area businesses have made donations.
With its funding, one of Peninsula Pride's most identifiable activities has been the establishment of the “Water Well” program which provides an emergency water supply for three months to owners of wells polluted with E. coli, regardless of the source of contamination, Niles indicated. He said this has occurred six times and that there was one very serious incident with livestock manure contamination that led to the drilling of a new well.
Depending on the situation, Peninsula Pride is encouraging applicators of liquid manure to inform nearby residents if they're take advantage of the sanitizing effects of sunlight to delay the incorporation of the manure, Niles stated. He said this would probably result in the trading of one day of an objectionable smell for reducing the likelihood of polluting a well.
Sampling to identify pathogens will also be undertaken, Niles indicated. He explained that this would be conducted only with private funds and would be disclosed only as composite data in order to not tie the findings to specific farms.
Niles promised that all data obtained from the expenditure of public funds will be made public. That includes the involvement of Wisconsin's Discovery Farms, whose former director Dennis Frame has served as an advisor to Peninsula Pride, he said.
Resume of activities
On April 22 in 2016, a field day devoted to identifying soil depth was held, followed on August 26 with a cover crops field day, Niles reported. He said $30,000 was awarded in 2016 to landowners or renters to increase their planting of cover crops by at least 50 acres.
At the field days and in newsletters, farmers are being encouraged to engage in split applications of manure and commercial fertilizers, to employ strip tillage, and to observe setbacks to groundwater inlets in order to reduce the chances for water pollution, Niles pointed out. “We need a commitment to improve.”
Niles announced that a members only meeting will be held in April to review the manure spills that occurred in 2016. On a related point, he said new memberships are on hold until the applicant's Nutrient Management Plan is evaluated and approved by an independent party.
Regarding Peninsula Pride's overall approach, Niles told a questioner at the meeting here that it “does not expect to appeal to 100 percent of the people.” He said that fringe elements will never be satisfied and indicated that he is pleased with the response of both the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the federal Environmental Protection Agency on the direction that Peninsula Pride is taking.
New thinking, a changing of attitudes and practices, and farmers taking responsibility for their own situation are needed if the organization is to succeed in the long term, Peninsula Pride member Duane Ducat remarked.
He and Niles believe that the area “can have both safe and clean water and a prosperous agricultural community.” More information is available on the peninsulapridefarms.org website, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PeninsulaPrideFarms, or by e-mail to donniles@Dairy-dreams.com.