COLUMNISTS

Farmer-led conservation alliance proves even small groups can make big impact

CCASA
Calumet County Ag Stewardship Alliance
 board of directors, from left, John Schwarz, Barbara Fett, Kurt Schneider, John VandenBoom, and Paul Meyers.

The Calumet County Ag Stewardship Alliance (CCASA) consist of only 11 registered farmers. However small, the group is making great strides. 

Members of the farmer-led conservation group discussed what conservation practices are working and what members are learning at the farmer-led group’s annual meeting Feb. 28.

Ricardo Costa, agricultural strategy manager for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), shared the findings from CCASA’s 2021 member conservation practices survey. The group has nearly doubled acres from 7,725 in 2020, to 14,810 acres in 2021. All its members are exploring no-till or strip/zone till, while nine follow with a cover crop. By reducing tillage practices, these farmers are reducing runoff and soil erosion. Costa challenged the group to maintain the momentum and grow its membership level for the next year.

“These numbers show we are a small group, yes, but we are doing great work,” Costa said.

Farmers in Calumet County continue expressing interest in conservation projects and programs. Another farmer group trialing conservation practices is Between the Lakes Demonstration Farm Network.

Steve Hoffman, independent crop consultant and project manager for this group, shared different practices the group has tried, including interseeding, planting green, various cover crops and manure application trials. Future goals for the Between the Lakes group are trying GPS hazard maps and hosting more on-farm field days to encourage farmer-to-farmer collaboration. Hoffman fully believes in farmers’ ability to help solve some of the environmental concerns in agriculture.

“Farmers are the most innovative people on the plant, and through these on-farm demonstrations, we are learning a lot,” Hoffman said. “We know we have a lot of challenges with agriculture and the environment, but if farmers put their heads to it and keep working with on-farm demonstrations, I know we are going to solve these problems.”     

CCASA works closely with both U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Calumet County Land and Water Conservation Department in providing programs to its members.

Joe Smedberg from NRCS shared with members the different cost-share opportunities and financial programs available through NRCS, including Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and Conservation Reserve Program. He shared that rental prices for these programs are some of the highest he has ever seen in the reserve program.

Tony Reali from Calumet County Land and Water Conservation presented on water quality projects happening within the watershed. He shared how CCASA members can take advantage of two current cost-share programs happening in Plum/Kankapot and North Branch Manitowoc.

CCASA also held its second election of board of directors. Members elected John Schwarz, president; Kurt Schneider, vice president; John VandenBoom, treasurer; Barbara Fett, secretary; and Paul Meyers.

“It’s great to see all the things happening within this group,” VandenBoom said. “We encourage all to watch our Facebook page for upcoming events and promotions. The more involved group we have the better. Anyone can join, you don’t have to be a farmer.”