SEYMOUR, Wis. – Fall harvest is here and many farmers say they wish to add conservation to their to-do-list – and that’s not always easy. But in northeastern Wisconsin one piece of equipment is giving producers the chance to adopt environmentally friendly practices.

There’s been renewed interest in methods such as cover crops, which improve soil health and prevent harmful runoff to waterways. But the initial costs and time it takes to apply seed can serve as a barrier. Outagamie County officials have teamed with The Nature Conservancy to provide an “air-seeder” for local farmers to share.

Jeremy Freund, project coordinator with the county, said the seeder attaches to machines, including those used for tillage work this fall.

“So that air-seeder has little tubes that you can run anywhere on any piece of equipment, and tillage makes sense because you’re disturbing the soil,” he said. “And the tillage equipment does its thing for the farmer, but it also incorporates the seed.”

Jeremy Freund

Jeremy Freund

That means farmers can do two jobs at once. The Nature Conservancy donated the air-seeder and the county’s Land Conservation Department purchased supplemental gear for it. According to the county during the past five years a handful of producers have used it to great success. Farmers from outside the area can also use it.

Troy Ulmer of Seymour was one of the first to use the air-seeder. He said it’s been beneficial to his operation because it’s difficult to rent equipment like that from agricultural dealers. He was able to use it again this past summer and plans to go back to it in the future.

“I planted the cover crops between the corn rows,” he said. “You know it was a very minimal charge to use the equipment; otherwise I would have had no means to put the cover crop in.”

Nicole Van Helden, director of resilient lands at The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, said the “library approach” of borrowing necessary equipment adds another option to the conservation movement within agriculture. She said state and federal incentive programs are great but don’t cover everything a farmer might need to start things going.

Nicole Van Helden

Nicole Van Helden

And implementing other ideas provides flexibility.

“Farmers are really creative and they’re great problem solvers,” she said. “And so what works on one farm may or may not work for someone else. Having programs and equipment- and knowledge-sharing opportunities that allow people to figure it out for their own farm I think is really helpful.”

She said convincing more farmers to try conservation methods could do well for her area in the Fox River Watershed. Preventing harmful runoff from farmland can limit algae growth in places like the bay in Green Bay.

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