Holte: Sharing farmers' water story in Madison

Jim Holte
Wisconsin farmers live where they farm and drink the water that flows under their fields and have a personal stake in this dynamic water discussion.

On April 3, I had the opportunity to testify before the Speaker's Task Force on Water Quality in Madison.

As president of Wisconsin Farm Bureau, I have testified on a variety of topics. There was an even higher level of importance on this testimony, because it focused on water. As a farmer, I know how our industry works to keep this precious resource safe. It's important to make sure others understand the farmers' long-standing commitment to water quality.

In my testimony, I stressed that farmers are the original stewards of the land and our story includes evolution in farming practices to do more with less. We can harvest more corn per acre using less fertilizer, applying fewer pest management products while improving soil health and water quality.

We rely on science to help us understand the complexities of our practices and how those practices impact our farms and the environment. Much of that research is done at our land-grant university, UW-Madison, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and with our integrated research specialists who work with UW Extension.

Wisconsin farmers live where they farm and drink the water that flows under their fields. No one cares about water quality more than farmers who are directly impacted by it. We have a personal stake in this dynamic water discussion. I testified to ensure that farmers have a voice to share the best practices farmers have implemented.

I want to take you back to when the nonpoint program was created. WFBF was committed to being at the table because we understood that farmers needed scientifically-supported guidelines in place that addressed solutions for clean water and manure management practices. We were committed to helping design a program that farmers could use.

We also were involved in the Natural Resources Conservation Service Standards Oversight Committee that updates the standards for nutrient management development and improvement of these standards. These are aimed at protecting groundwater and surface water safety.

Farm Bureau members were at the forefront of the Producer-Led Watershed Grant program and supported its inception and continued growth. This program is successful throughout the state because farmers collaborate to find solutions to problems that directly impact their farms and rural communities. This collaboration of stakeholders allows farmers to have a voice in how and why practices are implemented on their farms.

WFBF has long supported the Land and Water Conservation staff at the county level. This staff support helps farmers with implementation of conservation practices. There is a direct correlation between these conservation practices and water quality.

While farmers understand the need to create models for scientific studies, actual on-farm data holds the most weight because it is based on actual outcomes that are measured and not predicted. Some of the best on-farm research and data has come to the farming community through research by staff at UW Discovery Farms. These farm sites are working farms that implement on-farm practices and measure the impacts on surface water quality.

Whether it's representing our members on a water-related committee or testifying, WFBF is engaged in the water conversation and participating in every opportunity that we have.

This is not a brief discussion, but it will continue to evolve through this year and the future. I encourage you to get involved with a local watershed, engage with nearby environmental groups and attend water-related meetings in your areas.

As farmers we need to be engaged on the topic of water quality, and that's why I shared our story on April 3.

Jim Holte, Wisconsin Farm Bureau President

Holte is has been President of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation since 2012, and is a grain and beef farmer from Elk Mound.