Nutrient management & environmental responsibility
Having a Nutrient Management Plan makes good business sense for any farm. Besides the benefits this has for our crops, it demonstrates that we care about what goes into the ground and beyond our property line.
Manure is applied in the fall for the spring planting season. We are responsible for every gallon of manure we apply. It’s important that the crops we plan to plant each year will completely utilize the nutrients. Too much, and the excess could run into a nearby water supply (fortunately, this isn’t much of an issue where we are located). Of course, too little and we won’t maximize our crop yield.
We extract water from manure using our separation facility, creating a more concentrated end product so we don’t use as much in the fields and there is even less chance of nutrient runoff.
At the end of each year, we turn in an annual report to the DNR (see WPDES) showing where and how many gallons of nutrients we applied to our fields. This means we are held accountable, of course, but we benefit since it makes for a valuable planning tool each year.
We’re fortunate to harvest our own manure, a product we have no shortage of at our dairy! It’s worth a lot of money to us (see Committed to Conservation). Some farms have to purchase their fertilizer.
Protecting the land we farm on is critical to both our crops and nearby properties. We take proactive steps to prevent soil erosion. This requires significant monitoring and planning, but the rewards pay off – especially in terms of our commitment toward sustainability.
We test our soil every four years. To do this, a soil sample goes to a state certified lab. The results give us insight into where our nutrient levels are and how much manure to apply to our fields. We want to make sure we’re not overloading nutrients into the soil. Phosphorous and nitrogen levels are monitored closely as they can get into nearby water sources if over applied.
Crop rotation is one powerful way to reduce soil erosion. Every few years, we change the crop planted in a particular field. For instance, we go from corn to alfalfa, and later to soybeans. Rotation actually reduces pesticide use because it naturally breaks the cycle of weed growth, the appearance of insects and plant disease. Putting alfalfa in the rotation also reduces fertilizer costs because it replaces soil nitrogen that the corn and other grains deplete.
After the fall harvest, we re-plant a select number of our fields with rye as a winter cover crop. This technique establishes vegetation that protects the soil from wind and water erosion during the dormant winter and spring months.
Tilling the land
According to the contour of the hills enables us to control water flow. If we notice a certain water flow pattern develop, we’ll put in a grass filter strip to redistribute the flow more evenly. This prevents gullies from forming in the field, which in turn prevents erosion.