The Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance is one of 5 farmer-led groups in Wisconsin that TNC supports through the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance.
Agriculture Field Day The Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance is one of 5 farmer-led groups in Wisconsin that TNC supports through the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance. © Paige Frautschy/TNC

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New Resource for Wisconsin farmers available for increasing conservation, collaboration

Guide aims to help farmer-led watershed groups take steps toward success

A new resource is available to guide farmers and their partners in conservation on the road to success with the launch of the Producer-Led Group Roadmap: Finding Success in Farmer-Led Watershed Organizations.

The document is the result of a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance (DSSA) and The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s work with agriculture is led by Steve Richter, Director of Agriculture Strategies.
Steve Richter Wisconsin’s work with agriculture is led by Steve Richter, Director of Agriculture Strategies. © Mark Godfrey/TNC

Listen in to this Diary Stream podcast that features the Roadmap. Steve Richter, TNC Director of Agriculture Strategies, joins partners at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance  to discuss this new resource for farmers looking to expand conservation practices and document their progress in water quality and soil health.

Wisconsin’s work with agriculture is led by Steve Richter, Director of Agriculture Strategies.
Steve Richter Wisconsin’s work with agriculture is led by Steve Richter, Director of Agriculture Strategies. © Mark Godfrey/TNC

Dairy Stream Podcast

Steve Richter, TNC Director of Agriculture Strategies, joins partners on the Dairy Stream Podcast to discuss a new resource for farmers available for increasing conservation.

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Mike Austin:

Welcome to Dairy Stream, brought to you by the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, sister organizations that fight for sensible dairy policy in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. Dairy Stream focuses on issues affecting the dairy community and our customers.

Mike Austin:

Hi, I'm your host Mike Austin.

Mike Austin:

Well it is nice to be back with you for this edition of Dairy Stream. Today we're focusing in on conservation. A lot of farmer-led conservation groups have been growing in popularity really as a way for farmers to expand conservation practices and document their progress in water quality and soil health.

Mike Austin:

Today we're talking with experts behind a new resource for these organizations, it's called the Producer Lead Group Roadmap: Finding Success in Farmer-Led Watershed Organizations.

Mike Austin:

Our three guests happen to be Rachel Rushmann. She's a producer-led program manager at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Steve Richter, he's the director of Agriculture Strategies at The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. And Lauren Brey, director of strategic partnerships and sustainability for the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance. Again, thank all three of you for giving us some insights on this very important subject.

Mike Austin:

Rachel, let's start out with you with a workman's definition. What really is a farmer-led watershed as far as the qualifications and requirements?

Rachel Rushmann:

The producer-led watersheds involve groups of farmers that are working to improve soil and water quality in their respective regions throughout Wisconsin. DATCP funds groups of at least five farmers working on conservation efforts for a max of 40,000 per year, each group must either work with UW Extension, Wisconsin DNR, a non-profit organization, or their local conservation department in order to qualify. So once the minimum of five farms is met then actually any type of farm, or farm member, or community member can be involved in the projects.

Mike Austin:

Just a follow up, are those watersheds growing here in Wisconsin?

Rachel Rushmann:

They are, yeah. Participation has doubled. We've gone from 14 groups in 2016 and now we're up to 28, and we expect more groups to be forming in this coming year. We now have triple the funding that we had since the start of the program.

Mike Austin:

Well that's certainly a very positive trend. Again, good to see that's happening, although, I'm not surprised of that knowing the commitment that the agriculture community does have for conservation.

Mike Austin:

Steve, I want to ask you about the type of conservation practices that our farmers are really using, and really how does The Nature Conservancy support those.

Steve Richter:

The practices are primarily what I would call soil health practices and better nutrient management practices, so I'll describe those briefly. Soil health practices are practices that farmers can implement in their crop fields such as cover crops, planting a crop during the fall that will then stay green during the winter months, reducing the tillage when they're planting their crops in the spring and all the way reducing down to, ideally, a practice called no-till where they're not doing any tilling or breaking of the surface when they're planting their seeds.

Steve Richter:

Another good soil health practice that the members of the farmer-led groups are utilizing is nutrient management planning and trying to improve or better use the nutrients that they're either purchasing through commercial fertilizer or through the manure that their livestock produce. That manure, as well as the fertilizer, is obviously very valuable in enhancing plant growth, but let's do it in ways that would minimize environmental impacts as well as be as efficient as possible in terms of cost so that they're not "wasting nutrients". That's a brief snapshot of some of the practices these members of the farmer-led groups are doing.

Steve Richter:

The Nature Conservancy is playing a role through being a member of the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, which I'm sure Lauren will describe shortly. As a member of that alliance, we The Nature Conservancy, are supporting five of the farmer-led groups financially through providing an annual gift to five of the groups that they can use for their cost share program.

Steve Richter:

That's a program that is really popular in all of the farmer-led groups across Wisconsin where it's an incentive, a payment to the farmers, to reduce the risk of using these practices on portions of their fields, to give it a try to see how it works, to see how no-till works in terms of the operation, the yield, et cetera. That financial gift is one aspect that we provide five of the groups.

Steve Richter:

Then I think a second role The Nature Conservancy has played is we definitely try to help out staffing-wise where we see a role to be played working hand in hand with Lauren and her staff as well. So some of that work that I like to do is trying to help the farmers create goals, establish ways of measuring outcomes so that they can feel really proud of the work they have a message or a story to tell.

Steve Richter:

That leads me maybe to the last role that the Conservancy plays is that we're all about trying to help spread the good work that's taking place in these groups, and we spread it way beyond Wisconsin to my colleagues throughout all of the states where The Nature Conservancy has projects. And just getting them to understand that farmers can play a really significant role in helping increase the productivity of our soils and doing it ways that minimize the impacts.

Mike Austin:

This really is a very positive alliance and I'm certainly glad that you're helping to not only support it financially, but as you said, cooperate with it and communicate the story of what is being done on our agricultural land and how it is benefiting now only the farmers but their communities, and how other producers can get involved.

Mike Austin:

Lauren, what involvement have you seen around Wisconsin and how does the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance support farmer-led watershed groups?

Lauren Brey:

As Rachel mentioned, we have seen an increased interest in the concept of farmer-led conservation and watershed groups. Currently, our Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, or DSSA, supports six farmer-led groups around the state. We're really bringing together partners like The Nature Conservancy, our organization, DATCP, and others, who are interested in providing support for these farmer-led groups. Collaborating with the DSSA helps the groups make more efficient use of their time and it also helps them work on their image and achieving their goals.

Lauren Brey:

Really what it boils down to is we're serving as an incubator and support system for these farmer-led groups. We offer a variety of services that each group can choose from depending on their individual needs and what their goals are. Some of the things we do include administrative support, helping them with board meeting, providing communication support from social media, to email, to website maintenance, press releases, and media management. We help them on their strategy and grant writing, also connecting them with experts.

Lauren Brey:

Like Steve mentioned, The Nature Conservancy is out there to support farmers in their conservation journeys, and they have some resources, whether that's connecting them with some of their local agronomists or with DATCP experts. It's really about bringing together not only the farmers in their community who want to work on conservation, but also others in their community who want to partner with the farmers and help them on their journey.

Lauren Brey:

So we're trying to bring all those players together to help these groups be successful. Honestly, the roadmap that we've put together with DATCP and The Nature Conservancy is a perfect example of something that we've done collaboratively to support farmers in their conservation efforts.

Mike Austin:

And as you mentioned Lauren, and Steve mentioned it as well, we're talking about connections. So can you explain what type of events that farmer-led groups host to connect with other farmers and industry professionals?

Lauren Brey:

Field days and conferences, and annual meetings are a few of the types of events that the groups we've worked with have held. Field days can be as simple as a one hour meeting out in a farmer's field talking about one particular practice they've tried or they have been as robust as a half-day event with multiple stations and presenters, and up to 100 attendees and media there for the event. So it really depends on each group and what their goals are and what type of events the farmers in that area like to go to.

Lauren Brey:

But we've seen a variety and it's really about just providing that opportunity for connection. So their conferences and annual meetings, typically those are held in the winter and those serve as another touch point for the group. Typically, they'll have presentations or a keynote speaker. It's also a great opportunity for the groups themselves to share with not only their members but their community, and others, what they've done in the past year and their plans for the upcoming year, so a recap of what they've done and plans for where they're going, sharing their successes and highlights of the year.

Lauren Brey:

But again, it really depends on the group and their goals, but we have a few different types of events, again, field days or the conferences and annual meetings that seem to work well for the groups that we've been working worth.

Mike Austin:

And you're listening to Dairy Stream. Our subject today is finding success in farmer-led watershed organizations. We have the pleasure of having Rachel Rushmann with us, producer-led program director for DATCP. Steve Richter, he's director of agricultural strategies at The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. And Lauren Brey, who is the director of strategic partnership and sustainability for the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance.

Mike Austin:

We're going to be taking a break in just a moment. But before we do that, Rachel, I have one more question for you. Starting a farmer-led watershed group, obviously we heard from Steve and others before about the financial commitment involved. Really how are these groups establishing their funding streams?

Rachel Rushmann:

Lauren kind of touched on this just a minute ago about the collaboration piece. One of the reasons I believe this program is so successful are the diverse partnerships that exist within the groups and across the group. So groups really establish their funding streams whether it's in-kind or otherwise through these various partnerships that they have.

Rachel Rushmann:

As Steve and Lauren mentioned, they support the groups in various ways and the groups would not be able to accomplish as much as they have without those partnerships. The producer-led groups also utilize other grant programs and sponsorship opportunities that are offered by non-profits, whether it's local or national and also though local, state, and federal grants and agreements as well.

Mike Austin:

And we are going to take a break but we'll be back with Rachel, Steve, and Lauren in just a couple of moments. When we come back we'll talk about from Rachel's perspective what success she's seen from these groups and how DATCP is involved. Steve will talk a little bit about how farmers track their farming practices and outcomes. All that here on this edition of Dairy Stream.

Mike Austin:

We'll be right back with our Dairy Stream podcast after we hear from our sponsor.

Mike Austin:

Welcome back to Dairy Stream. This program is a service of the Dairy Business Association and the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative.

Mike Austin:

Rachel, before we took our break I talked a little bit about the success we've been hearing about these various groups. Can you tell us a little bit about what success you've been seeing and really how does DATCP support these programs?

Rachel Rushmann:

So since 2016 when the program started, there has been a significant increase in the farmer leadership. The farmers that have chosen to be the farm leaders of these groups have really grown and developed over the years, and that's been really obvious with the level of programing and conservation that's getting done within these projects. There's increased participation by farmers to implement conservation practices, not only within the group, but also the neighboring farms that are nearby, groups members. So the reach is really going beyond just these projects which is awesome to see.

Rachel Rushmann:

A lot of this is happening through that farmer-to-farmer education, the mentoring, there's a lot of one-on-one conversations happening at these field days and conferences that they host. Then obviously they're bringing in experts also to talk about different topics so the farmers can learn more about conservation, economics behind it and what really makes these practices work and makes them effective economically and environmentally.

Rachel Rushmann:

DATCP supports these groups obviously by providing the grant funding through the producer-led grant program. As I mentioned, it's a max of 40,000 per year.

Rachel Rushmann:

Then I'd like to mention too, the roadmap that we put together with Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance and The Nature Conservancy, which as Lauren said is an awesome partnership and collaboration between our organizations, talk about ways that existing groups can be more effective in their project and also a guide for groups on how to form if they are just starting out.

Rachel Rushmann:

We also provide several outreach opportunities. So we have a farmer-led webinar series, which features farmers from the producer-led network. That's talking about the ins and outs of conservation practices that they're using. We have a regional network, which is fairly new, because we're trying to encourage information sharing more locally.

Rachel Rushmann:

We do an annual workshop every year to share ideas and invite experts to talk about relevant topics to help groups become more effective. Then all of this information also can be found on the DATCP producer web page, so if people are looking for the roadmap they can find it there.

Mike Austin:

Again, that is one of our central focuses during this podcast is the Producer-Led Group Roadmap: Finding Success in Farmer-Led Watershed Organizations. As you just heard from Rachel, there are some outlets that can help you find more details about this program. Plus, obviously the organizations represented in our conversation today also have their information on their websites as well.

Mike Austin:

Steve, obviously when you're trying to measure a thing there's got to be various tools that are used to determine just how well the programs are doing. So from your perspective, can you tell how do farmers track their farming practices and outcomes, and what kind of tools are actually used to judge the progress they're making?

Steve Richter:

This is one, I think, of many chapters in that roadmap and a good chapter because, to me, The Nature Conservancy really wants to ensure that these groups are successful. One way they can be successful is by measuring their impact and what we really encourage the groups to do is measure the impact right from the get-go, right from the start, so they have a baseline of where they stand at the beginning of things such as the use of the practices I alluded to earlier like how many of their members are using cover crops and how many acres of cover crops were put into place say in 2019.

Steve Richter:

Couple of examples, one of the groups, there is a group in Sheboygan County, Sheboygan River Progressive Farmers, and 33 farmers are members and all 33 members utilized cover crops in 2019. That's a great story to tell and we want to make sure we're tracking such stories such as acres of practices, number of farmers utilizing the practices.

Steve Richter:

One simple tool to get at that is an annual survey that is done by many of the farmer-led groups done in the fall as part of the farmers tracking how many of them are seeking some of the cost-share program funding to try these practices. Well, let's make sure we also ask them well how many acres did you utilize.

Steve Richter:

What we really found is that the cost-share funding gives them that bit of reducing that risk and they end up putting many, many more acres into good conservation practices than what they're just getting a cost-share incentive for, so the funding goes a long way. Farmers are really stepping up and with more confidence, utilizing these practices.

Steve Richter:

A couple other tools I can mention that we’re just getting started, again, testing out with a select group of the projects are utilizing the nutrient management planning software used in Wisconsin called SnapPlus. It's a modeling tool that can really, again, most effectively [help farmers estimate the impact] of soil health or conservation practices put in place by, say, the Peninsula Pride Farmer-led group in Kewaunee County, where over 10,000 acres of cover crops were used in 2019 on fields.

Steve Richter:

Cover crops are really good at reducing soil loss and nutrient loss from their fields. Utilizing that modeling we can estimate then the reduction in tons of soil coming off their fields or pounds of phosphorous coming off their fields because of a practice like cover crops. The modeling is really tailor-made to each watershed, to the topography, to the weather, to the soils of each watershed, so it gives us a really good indicator, it's an estimate, but a really good estimate, of the impact these farmers are doing by utilizing these good conservation practices.

Steve Richter:

A final tool that is being tested out in one of the farmer-led groups is called field-to-market. It's a sustainability measure of the variety of sustainability metrics such as water quality, soil health, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and land use. It's, again, a way of really helping the farmers understand where their farm is today on a number of those metrics that I just mentioned and how can through the continued improvement that farmers are really seeking to do on their farms, they can change or improve the metrics of say energy use or reducing water quality impact.

Steve Richter:

That sustainability measure is one that is really recognized nationally by a lot of global brands, such as Nestle, General Mills, Cargill, et cetera. So they want those types of scores from their farmers to in turn tell consumers that yes, the food that's being utilized on dairy farms or farms in Wisconsin is being grown in sustainable ways, and we have the data to show that. So farmers are really good at tracking data and we're helping them do that.

Mike Austin:

Well thank you Steve for that answer. I think it shows to our listeners there are a lot of tools in the toolbox that are being used just to measure how successful these programs are, where they have been, and where they're going. Obviously, we're talking today about Producer-led Group Roadmap and that's what a roadmap is for, it gets you from Point A to Point B, and that's what this podcast is doing to try to direct you on the road of how and where we are when it comes to watersheds in the upper Midwest, in particular, in Wisconsin.

Mike Austin:

One of our guests is Lauren Brey. Lauren, let's talk a little bit about to be successful you have to be well organized. With any organization there's a lot to manage between communications, events, memberships, sponsors, et cetera, really how do these groups stay organized?

Lauren Brey:

That is very true Mike. It can definitely be a lot of work to keep any organization going especially when you're relying on farmer volunteers who are busy trying to farm and manage their businesses every day. That's where the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance comes in. We are here to help the groups that we work with succeed and meet their goals. So we can provide a variety of services for the groups based on their needs and we try to be flexible in our approach and really nimble from managing member lists, communication support like email, social media, websites, press releases.

Lauren Brey:

We do a lot of event planning support behind the scenes working with the group members to plan every aspect, whether it's field days or annual meetings, et cetera, and helping them get their message out to their community. And again, as I mentioned earlier, providing connections to experts and support systems like the Nature Conservancy, being a member of the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance can really bring value to these groups in a variety of forms. And that's what we're here to do is from the behind the scenes office work for the group to big picture strategy ideas and support.

Lauren Brey:

Some of the other groups that DATCP supports can partner with other organizations as well. They don't just partner with non-profits like the DSSSA. But they might be working with Discovery Farms, or NRCS, or their local extension agents, or land conservation department. So it really just depends on the group of farmers, what their needs are and who their partners are in the area.

Lauren Brey:

But our goal is to have the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance be a trusted resource for our farmers and their work. Really, the roadmap also provides examples and ideas for groups to consider from partners to work with like us, to all the different things that do need to happen behind the scenes that oftentimes when you have a great idea and you're trying to get a group started you might not think about. But as you get down the road you should really consider, such as should we have a newsletter, making sure you get a website, or having an email platform, or thinking through what types of events you want to host, or how you're going to fund your organization. Again, those are all things that are detailed in the roadmap and that the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance can provide support to the groups in.

Mike Austin:

That is Lauren Brey. She's with the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance. She along with Rachel Rushmann from DATCP and Steve Richter from the Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin are our guests on Dairy Stream. We've been focusing in on finding success in farmer-led watershed organizations and talking about a Producer-Led Group Roadmap. Again, there will be ways that you can connect to that to get more information.

Mike Austin:

Our time unfortunately goes rather quickly, and Steve, you've done a very good job by giving us some thorough information. But I'd just like to talk to you on the subject of continuing improvement when we're talking about priorities and learning opportunities. What are farmers really focusing on today and your hope into the future?

Steve Richter:

They're focusing on how to make these soil health practices like cover crops, reducing their tillage, changing their crop rotations, and tweaking their nutrient management planning. They're really trying to learn how does that work on their farmers. In some ways, that's things like how do I set up my equipment properly to make it work. How do I get the right seed mix. What is the right seed mix for the cover crops.

Steve Richter:

It's this learning from peer-to-peer, farmer-to-farmer, that these farmer-led groups really encourage or give farmers the ability to go to field days, to ask questions of each other, to really help understand these soil health practices. They're doing those practices because in some ways a priority to them is obviously reducing the environmental impacts of farmer, but as well as how can I increase the productivity and the health, the organic matter, the water capacity holding ability of my soil so that my farm will be more resilient for generations to come, for the next generation down the line. So it's about staying sustainable economically, as well as environmentally, that really resonate with the discussion that these members are having amongst the groups.

Mike Austin:

Rachel, we all know that there's that wonderful thing you do at the end of the year and that's the annual report or your summary of work. When it comes to the farmer-led watershed groups, how do they compile this and what does this consist of, and who really prepares it?

Rachel Rushmann:

Ultimately, each group is responsible for preparing their own report and who does that really depends on the group. What Steve and Lauren had mentioned about their annual survey, that helps immensely with getting the information needed to fill out this DATCP report.

Rachel Rushmann:

So we look at quantitative and qualitative deliverables, so we're asking for the numbers of acres of conservation practices installed, what types of practices, how many events were held, and what they consisted of, how many partnerships were formed. Then if they do have the information available, we also are asking for nutrient and sediment reduction numbers using various models like the SnapPlus model that Steve mentioned or something called STEPL [Spreadsheet Tool for Estimating Pollutant Loads].

Rachel Rushmann:

Then we also ask for things like success stories and really getting out how they increased their membership and what they have found to be what they learned the most that year, and things like that. So that helps us put together our biannual impact report for the entire program.

Rachel Rushmann:

Then I will mention too that we have recently developed a tracking project that uses SnapPlus software. We are helping the groups measure their potential impact on reducing soil erosion and phosphorus and nutrient loss through that tool. So that's something that we will be implementing this year and in all future grant years.

Mike Austin:

We appreciate all your insights. You've done an outstanding job of clarifying this roadmap, which for some of us are difficult maps to read, but this one is pretty clear. I think what's so exciting about it, it is not a finite road we're traveling, there's a lot of forks to it, there's a lot of different ways you can travel it, and there seems to be a never ending building on this road that certainly is going to help improve not only the nature of how we farm, but the industry itself.

Mike Austin:

Just in closing, I want to ask all three of you for some simple advice you have for a group of farmers who might be looking now to just take their first steps on this road and establish a watershed. I'm going to start with you, Lauren, what would your advice be?

Lauren Brey:

My advice to any group of farmers looking to get involved in a farmer-led conservation group or learn more about conservation is make sure there are several of you interested and motivated to help make it successful, and also reach out to partners to help you. With a group of dedicated and committed supporters and committed farmers you can make great progress, but don't try and go it alone.

Lauren Brey:

There are plenty of resources out there like our Producer-Led Group Roadmap and contact us here at the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance if you want to learn more and you need some support in getting started. We're happy to help.

Mike Austin:

Rachel, your insight and advice?

Rachel Rushmann:

What I've found over the years that has really made groups the most successful are a couple of things. One would be definitely having strong farmer leadership, that is a huge part of what makes these groups successful. As I mentioned, the partnerships and having diverse partnerships.

Rachel Rushmann:

Then with that, diverse funding sources so that you have the DATCP funding but you're able to fund other projects with different types of funding sources. Having an outreach component, so doing things like field days and conferences, and one-on-one mentoring is super important. Then ultimately, that tracking of progress so that they can report on their success and we can help share their success.

Mike Austin:

Steve, your advice to farmers looking to start a watershed?

Steve Richter:

My advice is we need your help. You want you to be successful, but in order to be successful you need to be working to solve these challenges that we face in terms of feeding a growing global population and doing it in ways that will minimize the environmental impacts to our water, to our soil, et cetera.

Steve Richter:

The best folks to have at the table are the farmers. They are the stewards of our land and they have the solutions and the ideas that can work and would work on a farm. So I encourage them to get involved. The farmer-led groups are, to me, an excellent way of getting involved in passing on your knowledge, as well as gaining new knowledge. We need you more than ever today and so fortunate to be working with them as well as the partnerships that take place throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Mike Austin:

Well we certainly feel fortunate to have three outstanding guests like we've had today on our podcast. Again, thanks to Steve Richter, director of agricultural strategies at The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, Lauren Brey, director of strategic partnerships and sustainability for the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, and Rachel Rushmann, she is the producer-led program manager at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Mike Austin:

This gets us to the end of our road when it comes to today's Dairy Stream. But again, the journey on the Producer-Led Group Roadmap is just beginning. Even though we've made good progress there's a lot of territory to cover and today has given you a good roadmap and information on where you can travel as we continue with our commitment in the area of conservation.

Mike Austin:

I'm going to thank all those of you for listening to today's edition of Dairy Stream. A special thank you to Joanna Guza for producing our program. We wish you a quality day and again, we'll talk to you in the future on Dairy Stream.

Mike Austin:

The Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative would like to thank you for listening to Dairy Stream. If you enjoyed listening to our podcast please subscribe and rate Dairy Stream. We value your feedback.

Mike Austin:

If there's something you'd like to hear, just email us: podcast@dairyforward.com

Expand transcript

“Farmers are always working to improve in every area of their farm, and we are seeing a growing interest in new conservation practices and the farmer-led watershed group model,” said Lauren Brey, DSSA’s director of strategic partnerships and sustainability. “We want to help farmers and partners understand the key components to creating and maintaining an effective organization. This is another way for farmers to learn from each other and to see positive results.”

This roadmap is intended for groups that are either funded through DATCP’s Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant program or for those that are functioning without the state funding. These farmer-led organizations foster innovation and shared learning among members to bring about continuous measurable improvements in areas such as water quality and soil health by exploring innovative on-farm conservation practices.

Finding success in farmer-led watershed organizations.
DATCP Roadmap Cover Finding success in farmer-led watershed organizations. © DATCP

The roadmap guides groups through all of the necessary steps, including setting goals, membership requirements, securing DATCP and outside funding, tracking outcomes, documenting progress, establishing communications, developing work plans and reporting.

“We are excited to partner with the DSSA and The Nature Conservancy to offer this guide as a resource to producer-led groups. The Producer-Led Roadmap will help new and established groups be successful over the long term, create mechanisms for groups to measure their success, and ultimately strengthen our Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant program,” said Sara Walling, division administrator of the Agricultural Resource Management Division at DATCP.

Steve Richter, director of agricultural strategies with The Nature Conservancy, said the guide will be an important resource.

“Producer-led groups have been very successful at helping farmers learn which conservation practices are working for others and how to implement them on their farms to build soil health and protect clean water,” Richter said. “We’re excited to be a partner in the creation of this new guide, which we hope will help more Wisconsin farmers work together and learn from each other.”

The roadmap is available on the DATCP website.

About the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance

The Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance is a collaborative, industry supported effort to promote and support farmer-led solutions to today’s environmental challenges, taking into account business viability and community engagement. The alliance was established in 2016 and driven primarily by the Dairy Business Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. Learn more at dairystrong.org/sustainability.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.