Farmers are the original stewards of the land. Preserving and protecting natural resources has always been and will always be a priority in every aspect of food production. Farmers are innovators and continue to create and adopt methods to progress towards their goals. Now, they are using the latest technology and innovative practices to improve watershed quality, soil health and reduce their environmental impact.
There are many ways to be sustainable, as good stewardship is much more than planting cover crops. It’s also about reducing waste, maximizing existing resources and preserving the future of agriculture.
Everyone has a responsibility to care for the environment, and farmers want to make sure they are doing their part by working diligently to ensure healthy land, water and soil in their communities. Here are a few ways farmers are maintaining their status as leaders of the land.
Maintaining soil health is a crucial first step in producing the healthiest, safest food in the world.
Corn growers maximize soil health with practices such as reduced-till farming and planting cover crops, as well as provide a renewable energy source. 37% of corn grown in Wisconsin is used for ethanol production. Ethanol is a clean-burning, affordable fuel.
Cattle graze on land that is not suitable for farming. They can upcycle this otherwise unusable land into high-quality protein for your grill and picnic table. Grazing cattle improve the ground year after year by putting nutrients back into the soil and spreading their own manure.
For every one acre in cranberry production, cranberry producers own another 6.3 acres of support land that is conserved as wildlife habitat.
Cover crops: Crops that are planted to protect the soil and prevent erosion
No-till farming: Growing crops without disturbing the soil with a plow – for example, imagine planting a tomato plant in your backyard without using a rototiller to break up the soil first.
Farmers and their local communities are part of the water quality solution. Clean lakes, rivers, streams and safe drinking water start with smart, sustainable farming practices.
Farmer-led initiatives have improved water quality through the responsible management of our state’s watersheds. In fact, there are currently over 40 producer-led watershed groups in Wisconsin. Responsible management of watersheds by farmers helps maintain and improve water quality in Wisconsin’s lakes and streams. For more information on watershed health, visit DNR’s website.
Wisconsin potato growers utilize irrigation systems for efficient water application. Variable rate irrigation allows them to apply different amounts of water to different areas based on the needs of the plant, reducing the overall water usage.
Dairy farmers use water responsibly, often recycling it up to four times. Some of the different ways they use water is for their crops, to clean their milking parlors and barns, and to chill the milk they produce.
Farmers are committed to making a responsible, positive impact when it comes to managing resources.
Wisconsin farmers are leaders in producing bioenergy – converting cow manure into energy using methane digesters. These machines can convert methane gas from the manure into “biogas,” which is similar to natural gas. The energy produced from digesters can power up to 7,500 homes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! Wisconsin is the nation’s leader in on-farm digesters.
Approximately one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted. Farmers are redirecting rejected or leftover food as feed for cows and livestock. Things like potato peels, cranberry hulls, expired cereal or sweets can be fed to cows instead of thrown in the trash. According to a joint study by researchers at Kansas State, Texas A&M and Michigan State University, up to 1/3 of a dairy cow’s diet is made up of human inedible food
Our farmers know how important it is to ensure the entire ecosystem is beneficial to our crops. For example, cranberry growers put sustainability in action with integrated pest management, water-saving irrigation practices and dedicated acres for wildlife conservation. On average, for every one acre of productive cranberry marsh, cranberry growers support six acres of support land. Hear from a Wisconsin cranberry grower about how she prioritizes sustainability on her marsh
The average cranberry bed in Wisconsin is 39 years old, which shows the long-term commitment many growers have to the land, their local communities, and economies.Most farmers rely on the use of pesticides to ward off harmful insects or disease to their crop. Without it, farmers could potentially risk their livelihood. As pesticide technology continues to advance, farmers are now equipped with safer and more targeted pesticides each growing season. Responsible use of these pesticides allows farmers to grow more food while using less land and water resources.
Sustainability also means preserving the future of agriculture – so that we can continue our rich tradition of agriculture in Wisconsin. Programs like 35 Under 35 recognize the innovation of young leaders who are doing their part to preserve agriculture through environmental, social, and economic activities.
As you can see, there are many ways that Wisconsin farmers practice sustainability. We all have a responsibility to make a positive impact. To learn more about how you can incorporate ideas like these into your life, visit our Sustainability at Home section.