Water quality discussed at conference
When a speaker at the South West Agricultural Conference asked the crowd in a session on water quality whether they thought their farms were contributing to phosphorous runoff into lakes and rivers, only a couple of people raised their hands.
Dennis Frame of the Wisconsin-based agricultural environmental firm Timber Ridge Consulting said he doesn’t try to “shame” farmers, but they must realize that no farm has zero runoff.
“We have a bunch of people who believe that there are just one or two farms doing a bad job and most of agriculture is doing a perfect job,” he said. “What our data shows pretty clearly is even the best farms have one or two or three or four or maybe 10 fields that are really challenging for their farming systems.”
Although some people in the room admitted to contributing phosphorous, Frame said no one raises their hand when he asks the same question in the United State. When he tells them they are all contributors, he said the farmers usually blame the practices of other farmers. “What we need to do then is sit with every farm and say, ‘We’ve got to figure out what your issues are and help you move forward on that,’” he said. “Actually, that’s been the most powerful thing we’ve done in all of our watershed projects.”
Frame said he has spent the past 27 years dealing with phosphorous and sediment losses in rivers and lakes.
In 2001, he co-founded the Discovery Farms program out of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, which conducts research into the environmental effects of agricultural practices and helps farmers implement proper environmental management practices.
The work he does now through his firm involves determining the level of runoff on individual farms and working with farmers to limit their impact.
He said he compiles the data he collects from different farms and arranges it into a chart, keeping each farm anonymous. His goal is to get every farmer to ask what they can do better to show improvements on later charts.
Based on his experience, Frame said it is clear that farmers care about protecting water systems because it gets sent to their crops, their livestock and their families. “We have to understand that agriculture is a pretty invasive system,” he said. “We do tillage, we do planting so there’s going to be some loss.
“In my country, if we say, ‘Do you want to eat?’ no one knows what that means because we’ve always had food available, but in reality if we’re going to grow food, we have to have an allowable level of loss, whatever that number is.”
We have to understand that agriculture is a pretty invasive system.”
Dennis Frame of Timber Ridge Consulting