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MADISON - On June 14, over 40 farmers, partners, and staff attended a Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network (Fox Demo Farms) field day event to demonstrate cutting-edge conservation practices used to reduce phosphorus from entering the Fox River Watershed, where it can contribute to the growth of harmful blooms of algae and dead zones in Lake Michigan.  

Partners include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Great Lakes Commission, and Brown and Outagamie County Land Conservation Departments.

The Fox Demo Farms project works with participating farms in the watershed to test the effectiveness of existing and new conservation systems and educate stakeholders about conservation technology. Six farms participate in the network, including Brickstead Dairy, LLC; Vande Wettering Farms; New Horizons Dairy, LLC; Tinedale Cropping; Van Wychen Farms and Nettekoven Farms.

The event was held to educate producers, land management agencies, and the public about the economic and environmental benefits of conservation technology. Other farms in the area have also joined forces with the Network to try cutting-edge conservation practices they see working on the demonstration farms.

No-till planter

The day’s events started at Brickstead Dairy, Greenleaf, Wis., with a look at a custom ZRX no-till planter. Dan Brick, owner of Brickstead Dairy, showed two fields, no-till soybeans into rye and a new seeding into cover crops using no-till planters.

“Dan is trying some new things in one field, roller crimping in areas, areas of rye standing all year long, and rye planted with the ZRX planter,” explained Brent Petersen, Fox Demo Farms Project Manager.

There are many advantages to the ZRX planter. The roller crimper unit is mounted right on the front of the planter so there are no issues with directionality or spacing. Two concave discs clear a small path for a row; row units follow in right after and plant into the cleared area.

“It’s critical to have the rye pollinate first, to be killed off effectively with the roller crimping process,” said Brent.

Surface applied manure was done after planting.

“We have enough material to hold that surface manure in place and as we’re feeding the biology of the soil, it will keep releasing nutrients to the bean crop; the cover will help hold the moisture in the soil profile through the hot summer,” said Brent.

The beans will continue to grow through the rye and have good establishment through the remaining materials. If you are interested in trying out the ZRX on your farm, please contact Outagamie County Land Conservation Department. 

Rotational grazing

A visit to Vande Wettering Farms highlighted rotational grazing, an interseeded grazing plot using the ZRX no-till planter and a manure side-dressing unit.

“Rotational grazing has water quality and soil health benefits, while also having the ability to produce a quality animal that can be put on pasture and harvest as efficiently as equipment; in turn the animals are healthier, stay in the herd longer, and studies show increase in production of milk,” said Adam Abel, Soil Conservationist, NRCS Appleton Area Office.

“We were cautious going into it knowing the old way of pasturing where you let them all out to eat everything clean; Adam took us out to some rotationally grazed pastures; the fields were lush and the animals were in excellent shape. We decided to make the transition and it’s really worked for us,” said Tom Vande Wettering, Vande Wettering Farms.

Managing and moving the animals daily, grazing the paddock down appropriately and then moving the heifers gives those different areas of pasture the full benefit to regrow and reproduce.

Adam explains, “It’s like a bruise, if you get a bruise and you are constantly hitting it, it’s never going to heal; if you leave it alone for a while, the bruise will heal.”

Managing grass and clover pastures efficiently in a rotational grazing system can produce as much or more than alfalfa fields.

“When you are grazing the pastures around 5 inches, grass grows exponentially faster at 4-12 inches; you are grazing it when it’s growing the fastest,” said Abel. “Everything works together in a nice system. Dairy heifers do well on pasture and are an easy transition.”  

Stops were made at Wiese Brothers, Greenleaf, Wis. and New Horizons Dairy, De Pere, Wis., to see successful fields with no-till planted corn into alfalfa and cover crops along with surface applied manure.  

In the afternoon at Diederich Farm, De Pere, Wis., a new cover crop InterSeeder was dedicated for use to Brown County Land and Water Conservation Department by NEW Water (Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District). 

 “This field day gave farmers and partners an opportunity to learn conservation principles and practices like cover crops, no-till planting, prescribed grazing and more, to improve their operations, building soil health and reducing phosphorus impacts in the Lower Fox Watershed and Lake Michigan as well,” said Angela Biggs, Wisconsin State Conservationist.

If you are interested in attending an upcoming field day or what to learn more about the Lower Fox Demonstration Farms, visit the new website, www.foxdemofarms.org. 

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