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EPA administrator sees farm conservation practices up close

Dan Hansen
Correspondent
Touring Deer Run Dairy, from left, EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Theide, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Representative Glenn Grothman and farm owner Duane Ducat. Officials stopped to talk about how cows are kept cool and comfortable in the summer heat.

KEWAUNEE – Dairy farmers in several northeastern Wisconsin counties have been implementing a variety of cutting-edge conservation practices to help improve water quality for area residents and to reduce the levels of phosphorus entering Lake Michigan and Green Bay.

On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede saw firsthand how these practices are helping farms and local communities move forward with a healthier environment and a healthier economy. 

Wheeler and Thiede visited Deer Run Dairy LLC in Kewaunee along with U.S. Sixth District Rep. Glenn Grothman, Wisconsin Farm Bureau members and FFA students.

Duane Ducat, co-owner of the farm, and a Farm Bureau member, hosted the tour that showcased the farm’s methane digester, which has helped reduce odor from manure. He also explained how the farm uses cover crops and no-till planting on the crop land.

Conservation practices

Duane, his son, Derek, and Dale Bogart are the owners of Deer Run Dairy which is home to 1,900 cows. They currently raise crops on about 2,500 acres to feed their animals.

They have been farming in the area since 1983, and conservation practices always have been a priority for their operation. Shortly after building their current dairy facility in 2008, they started milking 800 cows. A methane digester was added in 2011, which has allowed them to use their barn’s own separated manure solids for bedding and greatly reduce manure odors.

“Conservation is important to us because we want to be able to pass the farm and the land on to our grandkids and show them the need for continual care and improvement,” said Ducat. “Tours like this are an opportunity to show partnership with regulators because we need to learn from them and they need to learn from us.”

Conservation practices are constantly evolving due to the changing farm landscape and improving equipment, according to Ducat. “We want to keep our soils as healthy as possible to have the best feed for cow health and performance,” he stressed.

Deer Run Dairy LLC is also testing low disturbance manure injection into a growing crop, cover cropping and a denitrifying bioreactor for tile lines. 

Demonstration Network

Deer Run Dairy is part of the Door-Kewaunee Demonstration Farm Network which receives funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

The other farms participating are: Augustian Farms LLC, operated by Aaron, Todd and Ginanne Augustian; Brey Cycle Farm LLC, operated by Tony and Moriah Brey and family, and Jacob and Lauren Brey, and Kinnard Farms, operated by Lee Kinnard and family.

Each of these farms has a significant role in testing, demonstrating, and sharing information about leading-edge practices and technologies applied on their farms including cover crops, low disturbance manure injection and reduced tillage as well as other innovative practices that help increase organic matter, improve soil health and reduce soil erosion.

Federal commitment

Wheeler offered his support for, and stressed the importance of, these farm conservation practices.

“President Trump has been clear about his administration’s support for agriculture and rural America, and my priority as administrator has been to restore trust between agriculture and the agency,” he said. “Wisconsin has my commitment that EPA will work with farmers throughout the state in a cooperative manner and ensure that American agriculture remains the best in the world.”

"The health and well-being of the Great Lakes is of paramount importance to Wisconsin’s Sixth District, which covers about 90 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan,” said Rep. Grothman. “It is encouraging to see state-of-the-art agricultural practices put into place through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and see tangible results in the Great Lakes and their tributaries.”

Grothman also praised Wheeler and the Trump Administration for their partnership in these conservation efforts. “It is great for Wisconsin to have the head of a major government agency providing our state with such hands-on leadership,” he said. “I applaud the Trump Administration and the EPA for their dedication to Wisconsin. They are demonstrating how our local farmers can work together with regulators to ensure the health and well-being of our waters by reducing runoff and other pollutants.” 

Conservation partnerships

In February 2019, Administrator Wheeler signed a first-time Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with National FFA, which facilitates internship opportunities, connections between EPA Regional Offices and National FFA chapters, and furthering outreach on EPA’s environmental education efforts to rural areas.

“As farmers, we care for the land, water and other natural resources because they are the lifeblood of our business,” said WFBF Board Member and Wisconsin dairy farmer Rosie Lisowe. “Farmers are proud to touch the lives of people they may never meet through the food on their dinner table. We know we must continue to learn and grow in our farming practices to continue feeding our families and yours.”

During Wheeler’s visit, he also announced the completion of more than two decades of cleanup at the Fox River Superfund Site. More than 6 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment were removed from the Lower Fox River, thanks to a $1 billion investment by the EPA, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and companies deemed responsible for the contamination. 

Wheeler also toured the Schreiber Foods/CityDeck Brownfields sites in Green Bay. The former Washington Commons Mall was redeveloped into the international headquarters for Schreiber Foods. The redevelopment effort utilized $148,805 in EPA funds and leveraged additional public and private funds to open the $85 million, 260,000-square foot headquarters that’s now home to over 600 employees.