DARLINGTON, Wis. – On the eve of the third year of a nationally recognized farm-level sustainability project, members of the Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance (LASA) gathered for their annual business meeting February 25.
The meeting included presentations from leading researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, as well as a message from management on the past year.
LASA President Jim Winn, of Cottonwood Dairy in South Wayne, said he was proud of the momentum the group has gained over the years, growing to 35 farms representing more than 32,000 dairy cows, nearly 52,000 hogs, over 3,900 head of beef cows and over 59,000 acres of farmland in the county.
Winn shared updates with the group on a partnership with Grande Cheese, Farmers for Sustainable Food (FSF) and others who won the Center for Innovation’s “Outstanding Supply Chain Collaboration” award for US Dairy. The groups measure environmental improvements and the financial impact on farms.
Doug Thomas of Houston Engineering is providing environmental advice for the project. With 15 farms registered, the most recent measurements were taken in 170 fields representing 15,000 managed acres.
“There are a lot of questions when starting a project like this,” Thomas said. “One of the big ones is ‘How do you measure sustainability on the farm?'”
For this project, the partners are using the Field Print platform from Field to Market. The data collections were used to produce sustainability metric scores for three key areas: cultivated fields, agricultural averages for cultivated crops, and project averages. They looked at biodiversity, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, soil carbon and other areas. So far, the results have been positive.
Water quality scores increased by 11% from 2019 to 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions fell by 17%.
Attendees also heard from Steve Richter of the Wisconsin chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) about other projects the group is working on. Richter shared results from various studies on plant tissue, manure, fertilizer application and more.
“I’m really proud of this band and their accomplishments,” Richter said. “Farmer-led groups are a great forum to invoke change.”
Richter also shared topics that members would like to learn more about in the future, including cover crops and incentive programs, field days and demonstrations, technology and carbon credit markets.
Dr. Paul Mitchell, Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented the behavior of commodity and input costs in recent history and into the future. close.
Mitchell presented data proving the financial strength of a 2021 year for Wisconsin farmers. Crop yields were at or near record highs and government aid programs filled the gap.
“Farmers have paid off their debts,” Mitchell said. “Farm debt is near the lowest levels we’ve seen since 2014.”
Looking ahead to 2022, Mitchell is lukewarm with his excitement. Land values across the state have risen rapidly, and export markets for commodities and fertilizers could be affected by events in Europe. He also expressed concern about crop yields should the state experience another dry summer.
“We burned a lot of water in our soil profile last year,” Mitchell said. “If we don’t have spring rain, yields could be affected.”
The group also heard from researchers and participants in a soil health study in coordination with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Participants had the opportunity to hear directly from farmers participating in the study and how they saw improved soil health and water quality after implementing certain strategies.
Winn said he was even more optimistic about the band’s future. He encouraged participants to get involved in the board and to organize field days.
“Consider getting more involved this year,” Winn said. “I challenge our group to make 2022 our best yet. With your help, we can make it happen.
About Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance:
Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance is a farmer-led, non-profit organization with a vision of a community where farmers and friends of agriculture work together to protect and improve water quality and the environment. The group is based in Lafayette County in southwestern Wisconsin. More information: www.lafayetteagstewardship.org.