If Becky Olson and her husband, Steve Haak, felt like guinea pigs when they committed to initiating a nutrient management plan, it didn’t take them long before they realized the value of being test subjects.
Owners of Autumn Moon Farm Inc., a 204- acre cash grain and custom baling operation in Belleville, Olson and Haak had been working for some time with an agronomist on better managing their farm. However, they soon decided to take a class on nutrient management and obtain the software that would give them step-by-step instructions on developing a specific plan.
Olson admits they were more apt to trust their instincts than the data their computer was feeding them.
“The first year we used the software, it was maybe a little bit scary because we thought we had a pretty good handle on [the original process],” Olson says. “We were one of the guinea pigs, the first test subjects to go through the training.
“For example, we had a field where some winter wheat was going in, and we saw that we only had to use half of the fertilizer that we had planned for. It made us kind of nervous. We were worried about the yield and everything, but we gave it a shot. Our yields were just fine, and it cost us half as much.”
Through training that originates with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and is taught by county conservationists and tech college instructors, nutrient management helps the state’s farmers apply the right source of nutrients at the correct rate, time and place to meet crop needs and prevent runoff to surface and ground water.
Olson and Haak are among many farmers and landowners in Wisconsin who have instituted a plan and also taken additional steps toward good stewardship.
“Just for the long-term economic and environmental sustainability, to keep a careful and balanced approach makes sense,” Olson says of being good stewards of their land. “Our son is going to inherit our piece of the planet someday, so we’d like to keep it healthy and good for him.”
Other farmers showing success with nutrient management plans include Larry Wiegel in South Wayne and Erich Wollin in Milford.
Wiegel and his brother, Jack, milk 240 cows with robotic milkers and raise young stock on a 705-acre farm. The brothers have steadily improved their nutrient management each year since taking a class. It’s likewise for Wollin, who milks 120 cows and has 115 replacement heifers with his dad and brother.
Stewardship farming absolutely flows from Ron Brooks and his Brooks Farms dairy operation in Waupaca County. Brooks, who was named 2013 Conservation Farmer of the Year by the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, has a long list of measures he has taken to make his more than 1,200 acres environmentally sound.
“He’s very innovative and always likes to try new things,” says Brian Haase, county conservationist for Waupaca County.
Regardless of whether a landowner has been practicing good conservation for generations or is just starting new methods, Haase says a key to success is forming relationships with DATCP, county conservationists and others. “Here in Waupaca, we’ve done an excellent job of building relationships,” he says. “We have farms that we’ve been working with for up to 25 years. Every couple of years, they may come back to us when they’re doing some more planning, expanding or maybe having some erosion problems.
“That’s been our biggest success, in that we’ve built relationships with farms, and they’re not afraid to pick up the phone and let us know when they have a problem.”