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Farm perseveres through uncertainty
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Farm perseveres through uncertainty

AMHERST, Wis. -- When meeting Matt and Sara Hintz of Amherst, their true passion for farming can be felt. They’ve weathered difficult times, uncertain markets, bad crop years and a pandemic. It’s a huge accomplishment to persevere and continue to run the family farm successfully.

The Hintzes both grew up on family farms and knew they wanted to carry on the tradition. They started by renting land; in 2009 they bought their first farm of 9.5 acres. They eventually purchased the rest of the farm acres to completely own the 67-acre homestead originally created as a horse farm.

“We cropped the land the first year; we now have around 25 acres in pasture and crop the rest,” Sara Hintz said. "We started grazing right away from the ground up, installing high-tensile fence with our own funds."

The Hintzes now take care of their home farm and also crop 1,600 rented acres across 40 miles in Portage and Marathon counties. They said they enjoy having cattle wherever they farm. So after the couple installed high-tensile fence they added more beef cattle.

They built a steer barn in 2014 to raise cattle onsite. Currently the Hintzes have about 50 cattle on pasture and 120 Holstein steers in a barn. She oversees the cattle and moves them daily, sometimes two times per day, and completes some of the farm’s bookwork.

“I have always enjoyed animals and grew up on a pig farm,” Sara Hintz said. “I really enjoy working with the cows. I like raising the Herefords here onsite also.”

Matt Hintz takes care of the Holstein steers and farms all the cropped acres. He also works an off-farm job as a seed dealer.

“We grow field corn, sweet corn, soybeans, winter wheat, rye, peas and hay," he said. "We also grow feed for a nearby dairy farm, and they partner to chop it themselves. It’s just my wife, myself and our seven-year-old son, Thomas, living on the farm. So we’re happy to partner with other farms; we do have two part-time helpers that assist also.”

As the Hintzes took on renting more acres, new challenges arose with each plot of land. They saw erosion, ponding and other conservation issues. Matt Hintz was at a U.S. Department of Agriculture service center and asked Farm Service Agency staff about no-till drills. The introduced him to the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the relationship evolved from there.

The Hintzes partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to improve their soil’s health. Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program they did residue management, implemented no-till and planted 47 acres of multi-species cover crop. A few years after implementing cover crops and no-till, they partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Conservation Stewardship Program to scavenge excess nitrogen and apply phosphorus below the soil surface. They used precision application technology to apply nutrients.

In 2019 they worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and a Technical Service Provider to write a grazing-management plan; they are continuing to implement conservation.

Sara Hintz said, “We now have over 30 different paddocks I move the cattle into, so we have a rest period that works well for regeneration.”

The Hintz family also learned about the Natural Resources Conservation Service Upper Fox-Wolf Demonstration Farms Network through a farmer group he's chairman of, Farmers for Tomorrow. The Hintz family decided to sign on as an official demonstration farm.

The Upper Fox-Wolf Demonstration Farms Network is an agreement between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Waupaca County Land & Water Conservation Department, in partnership with Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Marquette, Outagamie, Portage, Shawano and Winnebago counties as well as the Green Lake Association. The partnership supports a network of farms that demonstrate the best conservation practices to reduce phosphorus entering the Great Lakes basin. The network, funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, enables conservation farmers to demonstrate to other farmers and the public that the right combination of traditional conservation practices and other innovative technologies functioning on the landscape can produce viable and sustainable economic and environmental benefits.

As a new demonstration farm, the Hintzes started by inter-seeding a multi-species cover crop, Italian rye and clover into standing corn. They said they were happy with the results. They’ve held field days and are planning to implement more conservation through the network.

Derrick Raspor, a soil conservationist with the Waupaca County Natural Resources Conservation Service, said, “The Hintz family plans to look into relay cropping next and aerial seeding of 125 acres of cover crops.”

Sara Hintz said, “We also have plans to fence more land in and incorporate the cattle into grazing of crops. We’re interested in trying more regenerative-agriculture practices, while decreasing inputs.”

Matt Hintz said, “I see the progress of what we are doing over the years on the ground and in the soil. We are doing more no-till and cover crops, and it’s really helping our soil health. Being a part of the demonstration farms has given us more opportunity to think about trying new things out, new species and methods. We’re just getting started and excited to try more.

“I like to see the progress now, after a few years of doing soil health practices. It’s really rewarding to see the fixed areas of erosion and ponding. Sometimes no-till and cover crops get a bad rap, but our yields are pretty good compared to neighbors that use traditional tillage. It’s working for us. We have been doing no-till since 1999 and covers since 2011, and we will continue to do so.”

When the Hintzes first started working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service they met with Amy Neigum -- conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Marathon County District -- on the farm to assess conservation-resource concerns. Neigum assessed the acreage and saw they had added waterways and other conservation practices themselves to some of the landscape.

“I had this one plot of land I took over, and the first year I got the combine stuck in a washout and wondered why a waterway wasn’t here,” Matt Hintz said. “So I added one; I knew it was washing out and I tried my best to fix it. We shouldn’t be farming non-profitable areas. I know I can plant grass on the red spots of the yield map to help pollinators and other wildlife, while making my fields more profitable.”

The Demonstration Farms Network is working with farmers like Matt and Sara Hintz to improve local water quality through promoting and implementing conservation.

Matt Hintz said, “Farmers can be a big solution to the water-quality issues around here. By implementing no-till, cover crops, grassed waterways and other practices, our farm is making good conservation decisions for water quality, and others can too.”

The Hintz family plans to continue adding conservation on their farm as part of the Demonstration Farms Network, so they can keep their land in good condition while protecting natural resources for future generations.

Sara Hintz said, “We want to keep this farm thriving by making good decisions for the future of our land; we want to leave the farm in great condition for our son, Thomas, if that is what he chooses to do.”

Matt Hintz said, “A big goal we have is every acre getting a cover crop, and no-tilling almost everything too. Cover crops and no-till have helped us in so many ways, with weed suppression, keeping chemical costs down, and I like having all the residue there to keep the soil covered and protected.”

The Hintzes say they look forward to teaching others, through the Demo Farms, about how they can help heal their land through soil-health practices.

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