Schoepp family enjoys best of both worlds on Lodi farm

Gloria Hafemeister
The Schoepp family, from left, Joe and Kami (Ron Schoepp’s daughter) Gellinger, Dave and Nancy Schoepp, Ron Schoepp, Ron’s son Noah, Ron’s daughter Lilah Schoepp, and her friend Daven Sabatke have been named 2023 Conservation Farm Family of the Year. All of the family members as well as Ron’s siblings, not pictured, have had a part in the success of the farm.

LODI ‒ The Schoepp family enjoys the best of two worlds on their farm near Lodi, Wisconsin. Members of the three generation family treasures the beauty of their 600 acres of land where they custom graze heifers, raise row crops including cover crops, they also have the bonus of a breathtaking vista of nearby Lake Wisconsin from the farmstead.

The family was recently named the 2023 Conservation Farm Family of the Year by the Wisconsin Land+Water Conservation Association.

“It is truly difficult to emphasize everything that the Schoepps have done to protect land, water and wildlife integrity for no other reason than genuinely caring about doing so,” said Todd Rietmann, Land and Water Resource Management Senior Specialist for Columbia County, the agency that nominated Schoepps for the award.

Rietmann adds, “They have generously given countless hours and donated their own money towards hastening conservation-related public outreach events.”

The family's recognition comes after many years of searching for ways to implement and promote conservation practices and soil health principles on their farm. 

Schoepp Farms is a diversified grazing and cash grain farm that grows over 500 acres of corn, soybeans, winter wheat and alfalfa as well as 110 acres of grass pastures that are dedicated to raising 200 dairy heifers, 30-50 dry cows, and 15 grass-fed beef.

The farm is currently run by Ron Schoepp with help from family members and his dad. Their conservation efforts date back to when his parents Dave and Nancy Schoepp ran the farm and established a conservation plan in the early 1980’s followed by their enrollment in the Farmland Preservation Program in 1988.

Ron says his dad’s interest in conservation goes back even further to the 1960’s when Dave avoided plowing or tilling through waterways. As early as 1991, he began no-tilling and soon after converted the whole farm to no-tilling. In 1997 they frost-seeded red clover into a winter wheat field and Ron introduced rotational grazing to their farm.

Their no-tilling, cover cropping and rotational grazing has made soil erosion almost nonexistent on their farm, something those enjoying the nearby Lake Wisconsin appreciate. Water infiltration and retention have been significantly improved while crop residue and organic matter increases act like a sponge and enable the farm to withstand droughts and extreme rains with minimal yield losses.

Dave and Nancy Schoepp are proud of their family’s farm that provides a beautiful view of Lake Wisconsin.  For many decades the family has been striving to protect the soil and prevent erosion in order to protect the adjacent lake and at the same time improve the health of the soil on their farm.

These grazing practices allow for portions of the pasture to remain untouched annually until mid-July, providing crucial space for grassland birds to nest. The 60-day grazing rotation also allows native plants to continuously bloom and provide habitat for pollinating insects.

Not only has the family implemented these practices over the years but they have also shared what they have learned with others by hosting numerous events on their farm so other farmers can glean ideas for managing their own farms and where non-farmers in the area can meet with real farmers and learn how farms are striving to keep their soil in place and protect area lakes and streams.

Ron says one of the best things that has happened in the agricultural community around the state in recent years has been the formation of farmer-run watershed organizations where farmers experiment with various methods of building healthy soil and share what they learn with others. The Schoepps are members of the Lake Wisconsin Farmer Watershed Council and the Sauk Soil and Water Improvement Group (SWIG).

Like other farmer-led groups around the state these groups receive funding from state and national sources as well as Lakes associations but they do their own experimenting and share the results with others.

Farmers fund a great deal of their experimentation on their own but they are able to obtain funding for projects such as cattle fencing, walkways, access roads, roof run-off structures through the Environmental Quality Incentives program (EQUIP) and cover crop funding available through the Conservation Stewardship Program. 

NRCS and the state Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and county land conservation personnel are involved with these farmers led groups but the ideas and implementation of projects on the farms come from the farmers themselves whose motivation is to build healthier soil and prevent erosion.

The Schoepps were among the first to incorporate grazing into their management system, grazing livestock on corn stubble and the green cover crop that grows after the harvest. The cover crops not only prevent bare soil that is subject to erosion but provides nutrients for next year’s crop and feed for livestock late in the season.

The Schoepp family has incorporated grazing into their cover crop and grain cropping program.  They custom raise heifers and raise some beef animals on rotated pastures.

The Lodi producers and others receive grazing ideas and assistance through their involvement with Grassland 2.0.  Through this organization they are able to benefit from the expertise of grazing expert Laura Paine and other grazers who share their ideas and experiences.

“I have already seen the benefits of introducing cattle to row crop rotations, but I am looking forward to having actual soil health data,” said Ron Schoepp. 

The family also works with organizations like Sand County Foundation. 

“By gathering feedback from experienced graziers in an environmentally-sensitive region, these case studies (like Schoepps) will help reduce the trial and error of grazing cover crops for farmers elsewhere,” said Dr. Heidi Peterson, Sand County Foundation’s Vice President of Agricultural Research and Conservation.

“The introduction of livestock is one of the five principles of soil health,” Peterson adds.  “We will demonstrate that grazing cover crops positively impacts soil health, nutrient runoff reduction, and feed cost efficiency.”

Even though the Schoepps have made amazing progress in protecting their land and the nearby water bodies, they continue to experiment and search for ways to do even better and to share the results of what they learn with others.  This year, for instance, Schoepp plans to experiment by planting canning company peas early and then, at the blooming stage, plant corn into the stand.

Ron Schoepp believes the corn will then benefit from the nitrogen that has been formed in the plant just before the pods grow on the vines. Once the flowers appear, the vines will be killed off and he expects the corn will benefit from the nutrients.

As recipients of the state award, the Schoepps will host the state’s next Conservation Observance Day on June 23.  The free public event will showcase the family’s conservation practices, as well as their impact on the community and watershed.

Dave Schoepp has been practicing no-till and utilizing cover crops on his Lodi farm land for decades.

During the daylong event, visitors will have the opportunity to stop at various demonstration stations around the farm, including a rainfall simulator, soil pit, cover crop field and barnyard.

For the Schoepp family, the event is also an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the support of the very community that these conservation practices benefit.

“This isn’t just about one person – the name of the award is “Farm Family” and I couldn’t do this without my family, friends and community who support this work,” says Ron.  “Without their support – and without the watershed groups and collaborators, agency partners, and nonprofit partners – none of this would be possible.”