Editor’s note: this is part 1 of a two-part article.
WAUMANDEE, Wis. — It’s not just hay that’s made when the sun shines on the Justin and Jenny Wolfe farm. Their 35-kilowatt solar panels are at work making enough electricity to power their 60-cow organic dairy and home.
The Wolfe farm in the Waumandee Valley of western Wisconsin in the Driftless Area region, so-called because the glaciers missed that section of the Midwest. The farm lies in the middle of a valley with plenty of sunshine to provide fuel for the solar panels they installed this past year. While the solar panels are passively collecting sun rays, the Wolfes are actively operating their organic dairy.
Justin Wolfe grew up further down the valley on a dairy farm that his parents transitioned to organic while he was in high school. When the younger Wolfe couple decided to strike out on their own, it was a natural choice to purchase a farm already certified organic. An added benefit is that Justin Wolfe’s two brothers and a sister live nearby with their own organic dairies, offering help to each other when needed.
Justin and Jenny Wolfe’s farm consists of 200 acres of land; except for the building site it’s all tillable. The land consists of mildly sloped silt-loam soils.
Besides the required pasture, Justin Wolfe plants 40 acres of corn that he rotates with four years of hay. He begins preparation for his corn crop in April with a rotavator, working the old hay ground at least twice. He gives the weeds a chance to germinate between passes. His goal is to plant in early June with a 90-day Blue River corn he chooses for its grain production and standability. Weed control starts at about five days with a pass with a rotary hoe, followed later in the season by two cultivations with a front-mount cultivator on his John Deere 4010.
He said his worst weed problem is giant ragweed. The Wolfes and their four children — Jorja, Joette, Janson and Jenelle — walk the corn fields pulling it by hand.
“We do some every day and in total it takes the equivalent of two full days,” Jenny Wolfe said.
Justin Wolfe said he considers ragweed their only persistent weed problem.
“Any other weed is a nuisance, but I wouldn’t call them a problem,” he said.
He uses no starter or fertilizer on his corn ground. With only one year of corn, he said he has enough nutrients left from the hay crops to feed his corn. In the fall all the corn is rolled before storage as high moisture in a Harvestore silo.
The following spring he seeds 80 pounds of winter wheat as a cover crop for alfalfa, fescue and brome grass. He said he likes the wheat because it doesn’t choke out the alfalfa or lodge like oats tend to do. He does two or three cuttings of baleage from the wheat.
“It makes better feed to have the grass in there,” he said.
Fertilizer on the hay ground is applied in the spring; it consists of a high-calcium additive he gets from his local feed mill. Although the recommendations are for 400 to 500 pounds per acre, he said he’s comfortable with using 250 pounds.
To be continued ...