DODGEVILLE, Wis. – The Iowa County Uplands Watershed Group’s annual dinner was held later than normal this fall. It was just one more example of the miserable weather’s adverse – and ongoing – impact on farmers.
The annual event is held in conjunction with a tour of the watershed group’s farms – traditionally in September or October. But prolonged wet weather and muddy fields have significantly delayed the 2019 harvest across Wisconsin. Farmers have needed to capitalize on the few good days to harvest, postponing farm tours and meetings.
Corn harvest as of Nov. 25 was 22 days behind the state’s 2018 harvest. It was 18 days behind the five-year average, according to the Wisconsin Crop Progress and Condition report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Soybean harvest was 18 days behind the 2018 harvest and 25 days behind the five-year average.
The watershed group’s farm tour and dinner has traditionally been attended by Iowa County farmers as well as fishers and shrimpers from the Gulf of Mexico. Together they discuss the large problem of nutrient runoff flowing down the Mississippi River into the gulf. They also discuss conservation practices the watershed group’s farmers have implemented to improve soil, lessen runoff and protect water quality.
Given the challenges 2019 weather patterns presented, the decision was made to focus on the watershed group itself. The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, which helps to coordinate the efforts of the watershed group, created a virtual tour of member farms.
“The Uplands Conservation Road Show is weather-impervious,” said Margaret Krome, policy program director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.
The road show has provided an opportunity to showcase Iowa County’s diverse topography and farms as well as a diversity of conservation practices, she said. Seven farms in the Iowa County group are featured in the road show’s short videos.
“The videos show what it’s like to farm in southwestern Wisconsin,” said Donale Richards, assistant policy director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.
Richards created the collection of videos showcasing several conservation practices.
- rotational grazing
- no-till or reduced till
- cover crops
- transition from conventional crops to organic systems
- agroforestry – mixed land use for raising animals, crops and restoring land
“We wanted to demonstrate the practices of the group’s farmers to other farmers in the watershed and across Wisconsin,” he said. “We also want to help generate greater community support for the good work the farmers are doing.”
The road show will be available by the end of December on the websites of both the Iowa County Uplands Watershed Group and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. The collection of videos also will be made available to the watershed group’s farmers so they can share what they’re doing with customers and industry partners. The videos also may be helpful for researchers who might be interested in conducting field trials in southwest Wisconsin, Richards said.
One of the farms featured is Meadowlark Organics near Ridgeway, Wisconsin. The farm’s partners – Paul Bickford along with John and Halee Wepking – specialize in organic production of small grains. They also graze a herd of about 60 Galloway beef cattle. Bickford is in the process of transitioning the farm to the Wepking couple. The partners have purposely built diversity into the farming operation to protect soil and water quality.
“Becoming certified organic, for example, was an important step in protecting groundwater,” John Wepking said. “And we grow perennial legumes rather than applying nutrients.”
In the past four years the Meadowlark Organics team has added more contour-farming strips on the hilly farm. Small-grains production works well in the hilly terrain of Iowa County.
“The Driftless Area wasn’t built for corn and soybean production,” he said. “Our soils are too thin for continuous row cropping.”
The Meadowlark Organics team plants hard-red winter wheat, hard-red spring wheat, oats, hulless oats, buckwheat, Kernza and other small grains in a six- to eight-year rotation. Small-grains production offers many opportunities to plant cover crops, he said.
The team sells grain direct to area millers and bakers as well at farmers markets to capture more of the consumer dollar. The Wepkings have backgrounds as chefs, which helps when talking with bakers, millers and other end users about desired traits and baking quality.
The team has added value to the farming operation by providing grain cleaning and dehulling services for other farmers.
“Being a member of the Iowa County Uplands Watershed group is a natural fit for our farm,” Wepking said. “It’s a good program to be part of. We all want to farm better and be in line with our conservation goals.”
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.