• WisBusiness

Monday, July 11, 2016

MaryBeth Matzek: Farmers taking environmental lead with new initiative

By MaryBeth Matzek
It’s no secret that well contamination is a big concern in Kewaunee County. Most of this northeast Wisconsin county – as well as neighboring Door County – is home to karst bedrock, which makes it easier for liquids to seep through and enter the groundwater.

Researchers suspect leaky, aging septic systems as well as manure applications from local farms have contaminated up to 30 percent of the county’s wells.

So Casco dairy farmer Don Niles and other local farmers took the initiative and launched Peninsula Pride Farms, an environmental stewardship coalition to develop innovative ways to protect and improve ground and surface water through conservation practices and technology.

Niles, a member of a Department of Natural Resources task force studying the issue in Kewaunee County, said he and other farmers want to do their part in addressing the area’s water woes.

“Farmers, by nature, are innovative problem solvers,” he said. “We can be most effective by working toward solutions in a collaborative manner.”

In late June, the DNR’s Groundwater Collaboration Task Force issued a report with several recommendations, including some that Peninsula Pride members were already implementing.

“The report created a road map. The report goes beyond black and white and presents a lot of practical ideas,” Niles said. “It’s also size neutral -- it has good practices that large and small farms can follow.”

So far, more than 35 farmers from Kewaunee and southern Door counties have joined Peninsula Pride Farms. The farmers, who have dairy herds ranging in size from 66 cows to 6,000 cows, teamed up with university researchers and scientists on the initiative. The group is trying to follow the model of the successful Yahara Pride Farms initiative, located near Madison.

“Peninsula Pride has been well accepted by farmers because they were looking for a voice in the solution and coming up with ideas,” Niles said. “The Kewaunee community is supportive, as well, since they were looking for farmers to play a role” in solving the area’s water woes.

Since Peninsula Pride Farms launched earlier this year, they held one field day and are planning another one later this month. At that first field day in April, they discussed the importance of measuring how much soil is above the bedrock and knowing the importance of that number before applying manure to farm fields.

One DNR task force recommendation calls for a ban of spreading of solid manure on soil with less than 12 inches to bedrock and no spreading of liquid manure where there is less than 24 inches of soil to bedrock. Large-scale dairies, or CAFOs, are already not allowed to spread manure on fields with less than 24 inches of soil before hitting bedrock, but small farms can do so.

“As part of the task force, I heard some of these ideas -- like the importance of soil depth above the bedrock if you plan to spread -- and wanted to share those ideas with other farmers so we jumped on that even before the report came out,” Niles said. 

Peninsula Pride has the support of multiple organizations including The Nature Conservatory and scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dennis Frame, who designed the country’s first Discovery Farms Program while at the UW, is helping Peninsula Pride Farms.

“Farmer-led watershed programs have a significant potential to protect water quality because recommendations are coming from people who understand farming and the challenges of making changes to a farming system,” said Frame, who also helped the Yahara Pride organization get off the ground. “This program can bring about dramatic positive changes to farming systems, and I believe that this has the potential, if given adequate time, to be a national model for farmer-led watershed projects.”

Aviation jobs: EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh will host a job fair to bring together aviation employers and job seekers throughout the event’s seven-day run.

The job fair will run daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 25-July 31 at AirVenture’s Aviation Gateway Park, a part of the event featuring education, innovation and technology. Previously, the job fair ran one day, but it was so successful that AirVenture organizers decided to expand it.

The fair will include companies ranging from airlines to avionics looking to fill their job openings. Worldwide, the industry employs more than 62.7 million, according to EAA’s latest statistics.

Belmark expansion:
Belmark, a De Pere-based converter of pressure sensitive labels, printed flexible packaging and folding cartons, plans to build a new facility in Shawano.

Construction on the 120,000-square-foot, $12 million facility is slated to start next spring, with full production starting by spring 2018. The new plant will include an estimated $24 million in equipment and plan to hire 35 workers when it opens. The number of employees is expected to grow to more than 120 within seven years.

The new Shawano plant will join the four production facilities on Belmark’s DePere campus.

-- 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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