Conservation-minded Peirick family leads on-farm tour

Gloria Hafemeister

WATERTOWN – Tony and Ralph Peirick’s goal since taking over their parents farm has always been to simply take care of the farm in the best way possible, protecting the soil and providing the opportunity for any family members interested in farming to work full time in the family business.

Peirick family members gathered on stage to welcome about 200 visitors to their farm to celebrate Conservation Observance Day last week.

The efforts they have put forth to meet those goals have not gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year the family was recognized as Conservation Farm Family of the Year by the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association. In celebration of the family’s award, the family hosted a day-long farm tour that brought about 200 people to Watertown to view their accomplishments.

The Peirick family, operators of T & R Dairy, welcomed farmers, crop consultants and land conservation agency representatives to learn more about creating and maintaining healthy soil.

Present at the event were DATCP Secretary Designee Brad Pfaff; Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association Executive Director Matt Krueger and USDA-NRCS Assistant Conservationist Eric Allness.

“No one cares more about our land than the farmer, and many Wisconsin farm families are already leading the way on conservation efforts in their own communities. Sustainable agriculture practices make economic and environmental sense,"DATCP Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff said. The Peiricks and T&R Dairy are a great example of the positive results we see when we help farmers pursue these practices. I thank Tony and his family for their leadership and dedication to ensuring a healthy natural environment on their farm.”

A series of tours of the family’s farm fields revealed what the Peiricks have done to help preserve their land for future generations.  Visitors learned some lessons on why this is so important to soil health. They got to see how the family manages its 200 cow dairy, some of their planting practices, and their Waygu cross cattle.

“It is with great pride that Dodge County hosted the Conservation Observance Day to honor the 2019 Conservation Farm Family of the Year, T&R Dairy," said John Bohonek, Dodge County LWCD Conservationist.  "The Peirick Family has been conservation leaders for many years using no-till and cover crops. Their willingness to think out of the box, along with their leadership in the soil health movement in Dodge County and mentoring others along the way, is the key to their success” 

Conservation Observance Day recognizes the hard work and success of Wisconsin farmers who are protecting our soil and water.

The Peirick family has 200 dairy cows and 1,100 acres, which is used for soybeans, forages, and corn for grain and silage. Additionally, the Peirick family does custom planting (including covers), harvesting, and spraying.

T&R Dairy has been utilizing no-till for 24 years, implementing cover crops for 10 years, and has been planting green for the past 3 years.

Standing in a field of healthy looking tall corn, Tony Peirick showed the benefits of rolling the cereal rye cover crop and then planting into it. The terminated cereal rye was clearly visible between the rows of corn, providing a blanket to hold soil and nutrients and serve as a barrier for emerging weeds.

Like other farmers in the state, the spring of 2019 was a challenge to the family as they waited for conditions to be right for planting but the cold wet weather extended well into June.

Their practice of drilling cereal rye and winter wheat in September initially appeared to be a failure because of the wet fall. In an effort to try to save the field, Peirick broadcast cereal rye with a fertilizer spreader in December.  It was an experiment that proved to be successful because by June the fields were covered with cereal rye and wheat, soaking up nutrients for the corn that would follow.

When the ground finally dried off enough he rolled the cover to terminate it and then no-tilled into it.

When he plants green he terminates the crop a few days after planting the grain.

He advises, “When planting green, get seeds planted at the right depth. Corn should be planted about 2 to 2 1/2-inches deep.”

Peirick has been practicing no-till since his crop consultant introduced him to it in the 1990’s. He started by no-tilling into terminated alfalfa fields.

He began experimenting with cover crops in 2004 when a conservation program in which he was enrolled required that soil not be bare over winter months.

While some farmers are hesitant about using cover crops because of the need to have land for spreading manure and emptying manure storage facilities in spring and fall, the Peiricks say it works for them. They cover about 400 acres over the course of the year with a thin liquid coating of fertilizer.

Josh Peirick says the application is based on their soil tests and the manure and cover crops cut down significantly on the need to purchase additional fertilizer.

Their dairy herd is housed in a tunnel ventilated barn and milked in a parlor that the family built in the 1990’s. He said the family has no plans for expansion because the size they are now provides jobs for family members interested in being a part of the business without the need for outside help.

Mandy Peirick, together with Dodge County UW-Extension Dairy Agent Amanda Young, talked about the benefits of beef grazing, specifically with Japanese Waygu calves.

Adam Latsch, a Walworth County farmer, showed the variety of plants that are suitable for cover crops, indicating the differences and the benefits each contributes to building healthy soil.

Jamie Patton of UW-Extension discussed the different aspects of soil health and what the Peiricks have done to increase the health of their soils. She did so from a pit at the edge of the field where Justin Morris and Tony Johnson from the NRCS ran the rainfall simulator to further illustrate the benefits of healthy soil.

Adam Lasch, a farmer from Walworth County, was on hand to talk about the various cover crop species and how diversification can benefit soil health. Each cover crop provides a unique benefit.

He described a ten-way mix and pointed out that practices such as this determine the difference between dirt and soil.