Save the Bay working for clean water, a healthy Lake Michigan
BLACK CREEK - More than 75 farmers, landowners and partners attended a Save the Bay Field Day hosted by Congressman Mike Gallagher on Sept. 15 at Nettekoven Farms in Black Creek.
The Fox Demo Farms, a network of six farms that demonstrate leading-edge conservation practices to reduce phosphorus in the Green Bay area, collaborated to assist with the event.
Save the Bay is a Northeast Wisconsin collaborative initiative in which agriculture, academia, industry, government and nonprofit leaders identify, share and promote conservation practices to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment flowing into the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
Save the Bay is actively working to build a viable community that works toward clean water and sustain a healthy Lake Michigan. The initiative provides opportunities for producers, scientists and other experts to actively engage in agriculture, soil health and water quality to collaborate on practices to reduce phosphorus leaving farm fields and entering waterways.
“This partnership has helped us unite as a community to share best practices and also support our agricultural economy in Northeast Wisconsin, while also doing our best to preserve the environment and pass on healthy soil and clean water to the next generation,” said Gallagher.
Fox Demo Farms, a partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Brown and Outagamie County Land & Water, UW-Extension and the Great Lakes Commission, has a similar mission to provide better information on the effectiveness of conservation systems used to improve water quality, while also providing educational technology transfer opportunities.
“Fox Demo Farms was very excited to collaborate with Congressman Gallagher through Save the Bay, in partnering towards clean water. NRCS, through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, is able to help directly put conservation on the ground through our six participating demonstration farms, one of which is today’s farm host, Nettekoven Farms,” said Angela Biggs, Wisconsin State Conservationist.
Field day participants learned about conservation practices being used in the Green Bay area to improve both soil health and water quality. They also learned about frost seeding cover crops, no-till and soil health benefits, viewed an interseeder and ZRX planter and saw the NRCS rainfall simulator in action.
Greg and Karon Nettekoven, of Nettekoven Farms, highlighted their cropping operation. Participants visited a field where winter wheat was harvested and red clover and urea were broadcasted in with a fertilizer spreader.
“We have great rooting, soil structure, aggregation, and earthworm activity, because of the continued use of cover crops on this field,” said Barry Bubolz, NRCS Area GLRI Coordinator. “All the material on the surface, the clover and winter wheat residue, will be great residue over winter, will decompose rather quickly and will also aid in weed management of next year’s corn crop,” added Nathan Nysse, Nettekoven’s Crop Advisor.
Participants also saw no-till corn and soybean fields, discussing cover crop plans using a no-till drill. Next spring, on the field previously in corn, Nettekoven plans to use triticale and plant beans into the triticale.
“Using a no-till, cover crop system, our yields are going up and we’ve had better weed management; the cover crops have helped us cut back some of our inputs and use of herbicides and pesticides; it’s been a learning process and Save the Bay and Fox Demo Farms are helping us continue to be able to do this,” added Nysse.
Next, NRCS demonstrated their rainfall simulator to introduce the four principles of soil health. Farmers were taught how to improve their soil health by implementing these key principles. (1) Increase your crop diversity. (2) Always keep your soil covered. (3) Keep something growing year around with a live root. (4) Disturb the ground as little as possible. Improving soil health is key to long-term, sustainable agricultural production.
“If farmers implement soil health principles like cover crops, they can increase their yields as well as build up their soil,” said Bubolz.
Healthy soil holds more water by binding it to organic matter. This helps with less water runoff, erosion, and evaporation. When tillage is reduced or stopped altogether, plants and residue cover the soil. Organic matter holds 18 ‒ 20 times its weight in water and recycles nutrients for plant use. Most farmers can increase their soil organic matter, while decreasing runoff and erosion risk, in three to 10 years if they are motivated about adopting conservation practices to achieve this goal.
“We are showing first-hand how producer’s investments pay off in putting conservation practices on the ground. Save the Bay and Fox Demo Farms are showing the general public how producers are connected and how we are all partnering to improve water quality,” added Biggs.
Save the Bay hosts field days to share information on agriculture conservation practices throughout the Green Bay and Lake Michigan watersheds. Many organizations, including the Fox Demo Farms, are partnering with Save the Bay to offer farmers conservation advice and information to make an impact on water quality.
Visit https://gallagher.house.gov/issues/save-bay to learn more about Save the Bay, soil health, water quality and the organizations partnering to make a difference on the ground.
For more information about the technical and financial assistance NRCS provides to producers and landowners for water quality improvement, visit www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov.
For more information on the participating Fox Demo Farms, visit www.foxdemofarms.org.