Rock County water quality improvement group aims high
September 9, 2020
Rock County farmers are putting their heads and hearts together to improve water quality in the Lower Rock River watershed. As citizens in Rock County continue to deal with the highest nitrate levels in groundwater in the state, local farmers are stepping up to find solutions.
“As farmers, we’re the original environmentalists,” said Doug Rebout, Janesville crop farmer. “We are doing good things on our farms now but need to keep improving. By having this group, we can talk with and learn from each other.”
Rebout, who is officially serving as chair of Farmers on the Rock, the new farmer-led watershed improvement group, believes farmers and members of the group will find new and different practices to try. The group’s primary focus will be on the high nitrate levels, but all environmental issues related to ground and surface water will be assessed, he said.
The group met for the second time Tuesday night at crop farmer Randy Hughes’ workshop on Highway 51 south of Janesville. Thirteen people were in attendance as well as Chris Newberry, senior conservation specialist in the land conservation office in Rock County, and Nick Baker, Rock County agriculture agent.
“Farmers on the Rock demonstrates agriculture is working to improve water quality in the environment,” Newberry said. “This group is a place where farmers can experiment with conservation practices on their farms as well as network and learn from each other.”
In addition to the nitrate issue, Newberry said the group will look at sediment nutrients in surface water and soil health. The big picture of environmental conservation will benefit all three areas.
“Our main focus will be on practices that impact groundwater most, but all these issues are interconnected,” he said.
The group will work to secure a grant of up to $40,000 from Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection with the help of Nick Baker. He and Newberry will serve as liaisons between Wisconsin DATCP and Farmers on the Rock.
“The fact that this group is farmer-led shows farmers are being proactive about decision-making and working together,” Baker said. “They’ll come up with ideas and principles that’ll work for them and are positive for them. We are here to support them in any way we can.”
As the group continues to build momentum, board member Pat Mullooly notes it took some time to get farmers interested. Mullooly is optimistic that water quality and soil health will begin to improve as the group moves forward.
“The response had been a little hesitant but we have a good group of farmers willing to invest some of their time and resources to make this work,” he said. “We are hoping that through this group, we can add acres to benefit soil health which, in turn, will help water quality.”
Other board members include Willie Hughes, Kirk Leach and Bill Barlass. The board will consider practices such as increased use of cover crops, demonstration farms, soil biology, split nitrogen applications, composting and increased small grain acreage.
Farmers interested in joining should contact Chris Newberry at 608-295-5980 or Nick Baker at 262-949-6948.