MADISON (WKOW) – The Biological Farmer Friends are part of a larger initiative by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to bring together farmers in a single watershed.
In Wisconsin, there are nearly 65,000 farms according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture website. These farms also represent just over 14 million acres of farmland. Farmers and their farmland bring in nearly $ 105 billion a year, but when farmers are faced with weather challenges, new techniques, stress and / or anxiety as well as new technology … who helps them?
Almost 10 years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture started a program in which farmers from the same watershed come together under the leadership of a local farmer. The aim of this project is to bring farmers together, in a space, where they can discuss ways to improve agriculture, sustainability, weather issues, etc. They can do this through a grant program also called Grower-led watershed protection grants.
“We want our farmers to prosper, we want them to be successful, we want them to be profitable,” says Marie Raboin, owner of Brix Cider in Mount Horeb and conservation specialist in the Department of Land and Water Resources of Dane County. Raboin is also a partner of the Clean Lakes Alliance.
In total, there are about 30 of these groups across Wisconsin, including the handful of farmers outside of the Stoughton area.
“When you all work in the same area, you tend to have similar soils. You will have similar weather every year, so you can complain, because farmers love to empathize with the weather, whether it’s good or bad. You know that if you have a dry or wet year, you can collaborate in different ways, ”explains Raboin.
Farmers also face another stress: tackling climate change and being as environmentally friendly as possible.
“We now also depend on them to provide all of these ecosystem services, whether it’s infiltration to prevent flooding like in 2018. Or ecosystem services like carbon sequestration,” says Raboin.
Carbon sequestration is the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by natural or man-made practices. This carbon is then “stored” or retained in plants or “returned” to the soil.
A task that some farmers may not know how to implement, but others in the future might. In addition to trying or wanting to help the environment, farmers must also be able to earn a living. So if a neighboring farmer has made changes that allow them to do both, they can also help others who are looking to make the change.
“I have seen several farms completely transformed from what I would say is a typical and very conventional system to systems that are completely unrecognizable to other farmers. And they do it in a way that makes sense … both sane and pennies, ”says Raboin.
You can see all the different producer-led watershed groups across Wisconsin and what their environmental purpose is. here.