Watershed Groups Put Grant Money to Good Use - Paycheck

Watershed Groups Put Grant Money to Good Use

   The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has awarded $750,000 in producer-led watershed protection grants to 30 farmer-led groups. Included in the list of recipients are two groups working to clean up the Sugar River watershed in the driftless region of Wisconsin. Most of the money awarded will go directly to participating farmers.

   “Out of the $14,700 that was awarded for 2021, $10,000 will go directly to farmers in the watershed as incentive payments for adopting conservation practices like cover crops, planting green, installing waterways and soil health testing on some farms,” said Tonya Gratz of Farmers of the Sugar River.

   These grants provide support for conservation solutions as farmers continue to generate new ideas and strategies to improve soil health and water quality in their areas. Farmer-led conservation groups are growing around the state as farmers and citizens better understand the necessity of preserving the state’s natural resources.

   “Adopting new conservation practices is scary and costly for some farmers,” she said. “Farmers of the Sugar River hopes with some incentive money, the new practice won’t be such a burden to the operation if it were to fail. If an experienced farmer can help someone adopt a practice successfully the first time they try it, chances are they will continue to use that practice in the future.”

   Some of the money awarded will be used to send farmers to educational events on no-till practices, the use of cover crops and regenerative agriculture, Gratz said. The rest of the money will fund field days and workshops as well as advertising.

   Farmers of the Upper Sugar River will use the money for farmer incentives as well. Through a cost-share program that helps offset some of the risk for farmers, the group supports new practices on member farms.

   “New this year is a zero nitrogen program,” said Wade Moder, executive director of Farmers of the Upper Sugar River. “Farmers can do a series of test strips in their fields and the group pays for that. We can then analyze the data in different parts of the watershed and find more ways to limit the use of nitrogen, which is an added cost savings for farmers.”

   Helping the general public understand the value of the work these groups are carrying out is always challenging but crucial, Moder said. His goal is to educate the public.

   “We want the public to understand what a farmer does on a daily basis because most people do not understand that,” he said. “We want them to know about the challenges farmers face. It’s truly up to us to educate the public and share the steps we’re taking to mitigate those challenges as well as the differences we’re making.”

   Jerry Daniels, a lead farmer in Farmers of the Sugar River, believes there is value in teaching younger generations innovative conservation practices. Students and younger farmers can watch the process of conservation and see positive results, he said.

   “We believe in agriculture,” he said. “Our community should know whether they are farmers or landowners or part of our community, we believe in our soils and are working to understand this resource and the synergies that the soil needs.”

Mary Hookham

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