Central Wisconsin family uses diversity, sustainability in operation

Tivoli Gough

AUBURNDALE - Denise and John Hilgart own and operate 269 acres of farmland in Wood County, WI, just north of the community of Auburndale.

Denise (left) and John Hilgart, in their
seasonal high tunnel installed in 2012

The main focus of the farm is almost 57 acres of rotational grazing pastures for their black angus beef livestock, with another 60 acres of cropland planted in permanent forage to supply the herd with food during the non-grazing and winter months.

The farm also has 72 acres of cropland enrolled in 2002 in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) for 15 years, and a small area of cropland under a high tunnel devoted to vegetable production.

Program Successes Resource conservation has always been a main priority of the Hilgarts, along with diversity of farm products, and having an operation that is sustainable for the land.

The 15-year CREP/CCRP contract enabled planting of cool season grasses and legumes on some of the wetter farm fields to be set aside. Other areas were enrolled as filter strips, and almost 4 acres of field windbreaks were established to improve wildlife habitat.

The CREP/CCRP contract expires on September 30, 2017, thus, the question for the operation is whether to re-enroll in CREP/CCRP, or convert these fields over to grazing acres.

In 2009, the beef rotational grazing operation started with assistance from the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). A Prescribed Grazing Plan was developed, along with installing a stream crossing and fencing, and planting forage and biomass.

The Hilgarts host a Pasture Walk in August 2013.

In 2012, a second EQIP contract added livestock pipeline, seasonal water facilities to the pasture, and a year round water facility with a concrete pad installed near the former dairy barn that remains on the livestock HQ. Other conservation practices developed at this time included a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan and nutrient management on all cropland and pasture acres.

A third EQIP contract added a 30Ō x 72Ō high tunnel to the farm and shifted some focus to vegetable production.

Denise and John are actively involved with the Auburndale Food Cooperative and CSA, and are always willing to help other farmers that have questions on rotational grazing or high tunnel vegetable production. All cropland acres are also enrolled in the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

A re-enrollment in CSP for 2017 includes 1.4 acres of native pollinator habitat planting as an enhancement to the farm. To add to their busy farm operation, Denise and John have a welding, metal fabrication, and in-floor heating business located in the machine shop on the farm.

Local farmers keep them busy with equipment repair and other projects also. NRCS District Conservationist Roy Diver has been serving Wood County since 2003.

“I always enjoy a visit out at the Hilgart’s farm; they have been great stewards of the land they own and always have more thoughts on what is next for the farm,” said Diver. The most recent project is transitioning to organic beef production, and partnering with another farm in this process.