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Friday, December 12, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Herricks honored for environmental ag efforts

By MaryBeth Matzek
As all farmers know, topsoil is crucial to their success. Without healthy topsoil, crops struggle and without healthy crops, farms struggle, too. That's something Jack Herricks discovered 30 years ago. The Cashton farmer knew he needed to do something to keep the soil on his family farm healthy not just for now, but for years to come.

"It's hilly here and hard to keep that topsoil in place," says Herricks of the topography in his corner of Monroe County in southwestern Wisconsin. "I knew that if I wanted to keep doing this long-term, we needed to make a switch and I took to no-till. I now take every chance I get to talk to farmers about no-till. I tell them it saves on soil, toil, and oil."

Herricks' dedication to no-till farming along with his other environmental efforts earned him and his wife, Pat, the 2014 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award. The award is given in honor of the renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold and recognizes voluntary conservation achievements.

"Jack is really an advocate and pioneer for no-till farming, but that's just one way he is a real champion for the environment," says Dave Neu, national director of the Leopold Conservation Award Program for the Sandy County Foundation, which hands out the annual award along with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. "He has a long-term conservation ethic that can't be beat."

Herricks says he was humbled to receive the honor for his 1,010-acre farm. All crops grown on the farm go to feed his 600 dairy cows. "Conservation is part of our heritage, just as farming is," says Herricks, adding that the family farm started in 1912.

Beyond Herricks' advocacy for no-till farming, the farm's participation in watershed projects and manure management also set them apart, says Casey Langan, director of public relations with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

The Herricks' farm has been an active participant in the Jersey Valley Watershed Project and even served as a research site for the Wisconsin Discovery Farms project. That work gave credibility to his efforts to keep nutrients on the soil, Herricks says. He spreads manure about every 10 days.

"It's amazing what was done regarding water quality in and around the farm," Neu says. "Brush Creek was in such bad shape, but now it's a Class 3 trout stream."

All nominees for the annual award are scored in six categories by a panel of independent judges. Three finalists are named each year. This year's other two finalists were David and Leslie Meuer of Meuer Farm LLC, a beef and cattle farm in Chilton, and Milk Source LLC of Kaukauna.

Energy company gets boost

Energy Bank Inc., a Manitowoc company working on improving the performance of the LED light engine, has received a state loan and tax credits to help the business Energy Bank received a $250,000 loan from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and hopes to create more than 60 jobs in the next three years as the company grows. It was also certified for $1.25 million in Qualified New Business Venture tax credits, which makes investors in the company eligible for a 25 percent state tax credit on amount invested in the business.

Energy Bank CEO Neal R. Verfuerth says the WEDC loan will augment the company's ongoing investment in optimized thermal dynamics, precision optics and application engineering. The funds will help provide the company with additional working capital for research and development.

"We recently launched a specialty outdoor fixture designed for auto dealers that we named the 'Model T.' Demonstrable performance results indicate a 70 percent reduction in energy consumption and dramatic increase in illumination," says Verfuerth, who previously ran Orion Energy Systems Inc. in Manitowoc. "The assistance programs from the state are crucial as we move into the commercialization phase of the Model T."

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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