Collaborative efforts in Dodge County help prevent soil erosion and protect lakes, streams

Gloria Hafemeister

HUSTISFORD - After years of disagreements, three area  lakes organizations in Dodge County are beginning to work together with farmers to share in the responsibility of preventing soil erosion and protecting lakes and streams.

Tony Peirick, chairman of the Healthy Soils-Healthy Waters initiative was on hand at the Lake Sinisssippi Improvement District meeting to talk about how the group plans to use funding they have obtained to reimburse farmers for the establishment of cover crops to build healthier soil and prevent erosion.

Last week the Tony Peirick, a Watertown farmer who has been successfully combining no-till with cover crops to protect his soil, was at the Lake Sinissippi Improvement District meeting to talk about the Dodge County Alliance for Healthy Soil - Healthy Water’s partnership with BDLIA and Dodge County lakes.

During the last year farmers have been invited to lake programs and lake property owners have been invited to farmer educational programs.

The HSHW organization was formed as an outgrowth of the farmers’ meeting with lake residents to discuss land conservation measures.

After a very successful seminar last February that attracted about 250 people the group held three more events including a workshop for farmers regarding cover crops, a pontoon tour for about 100 farmers on Beaver Dam Lake, and a field day highlighting the demonstration field plots that had been established on several area farms.

The HSHW group recently received one of 17 Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection grants that were made available to producer-led watershed protection groups.

The Dodge County group received the largest of the grants, $27,500. 

Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants are intended to give financial support to farmers willing to lead conservation efforts tailored to their own watersheds. The emphasis is on innovation and practices not already covered by other state and federal programs, and the intent is that participating farmers will reach out to other farmers to help them adopt conservation practices.

The Lake Sinissippi Improvement District has agreed to add another $5000 to the incentive funds for the farmers.  Earlier the district had contributed $1500 toward educational events and helping the new group get organized.

Farmers benefit

Peirick, together with Marty Weiss, co-chair of the HSHW group, spoke with the lakes group about criteria for farmers who are interested in applying for funding.

Peirick said he believes one reason this organization received considerably more funding than other similar groups in the state is because it does not cover just one watershed district but rather it covers all of Dodge County.  Because it does, Beaver Dam Lake Improvement District and the Fox Lake Inland Protection and Rehabilitation District have also contributed to the effort and that collaboration also likely helped the group get more funding.

Peirick and Weiss explained to the lake property owners that there are many variables that farmers must deal with when establishing a cropping system.  There are no cut-and-dry rules to follow because soil conditions and weather influence what happens on the land.

Weiss added, “This year it was hard to establish any cover after October 20 but some years covers can still be established in November.”

The Lake Sinissippi group is most interested in helping farmers in the area that drains directly into their lake.  The funds that the lake group has provided will be funneled through the HSHW group and farmers applying for the cost-sharing will apply for funds through the group.

Farmers will receive $20 per acre toward the cost of establishing a cover crop and they must match that dollar for dollar.  The maximum number of acres per producer is 30 acres for the HSHW incentive payment.  At least 30 acres or more of established covers must be matched by the farmer.

Farmers establishing the covers can choose from a variety of methods according to their current cropping system.

Methods include frost seeded (established by July wheat harvest); interseeded or fall seeded.  While winter wheat does serve to protect soil and have a living crop on over winter, it will not be considered for payment because it is a harvestable crop.

Peirick said farmers who plan to apply for cost sharing are being encouraged to attend the upcoming two-day workshop sponsored by the HSHW group February 7 and 8.  That workshop will include presentations from two soils experts who will share ideas on the types of covers to establish and methods that work for various types of farming. 

It will also include a panel discussion with area farmers sharing their experiences and talking about what works and what does not work. 

Weiss will talk about interseeding in corn and Peirick will talk about fall seeding.

Other farmers will share their experiences as well.  Jeff Gaska will talk about frost-seeded clover and Dale Macheel will talk about covers in wheat fields.  David Roche will talk about interseeding in corn and Jordan Crave will share ideas on fall seeding.

The February 7 workshop will be held at the Juneau Community Center.  Farmers interested in more intense training are invited to come back on February 8 to Joe and Jacob Condon’s farm for a more detailed training.  Brendon Blank and Rick Kratz will talk about the various species and mixtures of cover crop seeds and the benefits each type provide.  Charlie Hammer and Jordan Crave will talk about how to utilize manure applications with cover crops.

The February 7 seminar will be followed with an evening program to give residents of area lakes an update on the practices that farmers are establishing to help reduce soil and nutrient run-off.

Bill Boettge of the Beaver Dam Lake Improvement District was on hand at the Lake Sinissippi meeting to talk about the upcoming meeting.  According to BDLID research, about 25% of the phosphorous loading is coming from runoff from lake properties and farms in the drainage district.

Weiss commented that when he took the pontoon tour of Beaver Dam Lake in August he was impressed to see the efforts lake owners are making to protect their shorelines from erosion. 

The Lake Sinissippi Improvement District indicated they will likely host a similar tour for farmers this summer to show them what is happening on that lake.

While some nutrients and sediment comes from land surrounding the lakes, much of it comes from eroding islands and shorelines on both lakes.

The Lake Sinissippi Improvement District is spending $10,000 with an additional $30,000 from the state Department of Natural Resources to do a project on Anthony Island to correct problems that are causing that island to shrink.

The 30-acre island is inhabited by 19 property owners on one end and is wooded on the other half.  Since 1940 the island has receded 68 feet due to trees dropping off the edges of the island, taking soil with them.

Landowners were on hand at last week’s meeting to talk about the work being done there.  They are concerned about their island shrinking and the other lakes residents are worried about the soil that the shoreline deterioration places in the lake.

Both Lake Sinissippi and Beaver Dam Lake are relatively shallow and soil that enters the lake from any source will make the lakes even shallower.