Lee Kinnard’s ancestors settled on a northern Kewaunee County hilltop, where Kinnard today can view the sunrise over Lake Michigan and sunset over Green Bay from behind the barn.
He doesn’t take that view, or the quality of those waters, for granted.
“What we do on the land can have an impact on the waters on either side of us and beneath us,” says Kinnard, fifth-generation owner of Kinnard Farms. “I think that’s a reason my ancestors were staunch conservationists.”
The family-owned dairy and crop farm cares for 10,000 acres of farmland and 8,200 cows in Casco. There, the family adopted cover crop and no-till conservation methods before their popularity, developed an innovative recycling and drying system for bedding sand and now shares its conservation approaches through the Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network.
The Kinnard family exceeds legal requirements to protect soil and water, and firmly believes in a dairy cow’s ability to feed the world in a sustainable and regenerative manner.
“We absolutely believe a cow is the world’s best recycler,” Kinnard says. “We live in an area ideal for growing forages only digestible by ruminants like cows, which take that whole plant and turn it into milk and meat for humans. That is the basis for everything we do here.”
Farm Network Showcases Conservation Practices
The Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network was formed in 2017 by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and Peninsula Pride Farms, a farmer-led conservation group in Kewaunee and southern Door counties.
From field days to online resources, this network of farms showcases their established best practices to protect local water. Water quality ranks as a top priority in this region of Wisconsin, which contends with shallow, fractured bedrock that provides a direct path for water contaminants.
“I’m really impressed with how much leadership these farms demonstrate and how much they want to make a difference, increase conservation and get other farmers on board,” says Rachel Rushmann, nutrient management coordinator for DATCP. “Farmer-to-farmer education is so much more effective because it’s your neighbor saying it’s working, versus a government regulator. That’s what makes this program and this network successful.”
Farmers Committed to Conservation
The Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network comprises four farms, including Kinnard Farms, Brey Cycle Farm, Augustian Farms and Deer Run Dairy LLC. Duane Ducat owns and operates Deer Run Dairy, a 1,500-cow family farm in Kewaunee, with his son, Derek, and friend, Dale Bogart.
In the mid-1980s, the farm bought one of the area’s first no-till planters, which allowed them to plant into the prior year’s crop residue as opposed to tilling the soil. The family farm worked with consultants who considered micronutrients in soil fertility before the practice was commonplace. They also became an early adopter of cover crops, which cover the ground with plants between cash crops to reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality, enhance water infiltration and control weeds.
In fall 2017, Deer Run Dairy LLC hosted the kick- off field day for the farm network. More than 100 attendees learned about different types of low-disturbance manure injection. They viewed a soil pit, dug to facilitate a discussion on soil health, and witnessed a rainfall simulator to show precipitation’s impact on various tillage practices.
This year, Ducat plans to install a bioreactor that filters nitrogen from water in drain tiles. Meanwhile, he is investigating an innovative process intended to compost liquid manure.
“We’re committed to conservation because it’s the right thing to do,” Ducat says. “You want to leave the land better than what you found it. If you have healthy soil, you have healthy crops. It’s good for the land, it’s good for us and it’s good for the community.”