Farmers and advisors looking at soil profiles

Strategies for Land Stewardship Summit cultivated space for cross-pollination about farmer leadership in conservation

On June 21st and 22nd, the North Central Region Water Network team and partners hosted Strategies for Land Stewardship Summit in southern Wisconsin. The Summit brought together farmers, farm advisors, and conservation professionals from across the Mississippi River Basin to share ideas about how farmers can be successful and profitable with soil and water conservation practices.

The two-day day Summit started with a day-long field day that featured two farm tours by farmers who are active in soil and water conservation and great examples of farmer leadership: Adam and Betsy Lasch of Lasch Livestock Farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin and David, Daniel, and Doug Rebout of Roger Rebout & Sons Farm in Janesville, Wisconsin. The 100-degree heat of the day did not wilt the enthusiasm of either the farmer hosts or the participants, who engaged in lively discussions about the challenges and opportunities of practices like cover crops, no-till, and nutrient management.

Amanda Gumbert speaking to summit attendees

Amanda Gumbert speaking to summit attendees

“Attendees were able to hear straight talk from the host farmers and learn about the good and challenging parts of conservation. We even got to look at roots and soil from an active crop,” said Amanda Gumbert, Water Quality Specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, who led the organization of the summit.

Summit participants also heard from Wisconsin Discovery Farms and the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST), both UW-Madison-based research and extension programs that are gathering valuable data on the soil and water impacts of conservation practices. County conservationists were also on hand to provide an overview of the opportunities for farmers to implement conservation practices locally.

“Seeing how another farmer handles the tough parts of conservation will hopefully make it easier for farmer attendees to implement at least one thing that they learned,” said Gumbert.

Water monitoring system demonstration at the summit

Ryan Heiderman with Wisconsin Discovery Farms demonstrating their nitrogen monitoring system

The weather cooled and participants went indoors for the second day of the summit for a set of presentations and panel discussions that mixed the perspectives of researchers and farmers. Conversation topics ranged from climate impacts to Kernza and producer-led watershed groups to YouTube, with a general focus on the opportunities to increase farmer participation in conservation practices. Download the full agenda to check out the complete summit proceedings.

The Summit is the work of a collaborative project led by Mississippi State University’s REACH program and including the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension and UW Discovery Farms Program, the University of Kentucky, University of Illinois, and University of Arkansas and its Discovery Farms program.

This partnership has been focused on creating opportunities for farmer-to-farmer peer learning about implementing conservation practices in the Mississippi River Basin. Other outputs of their efforts have included One Good Idea, an online clearinghouse of videos and podcasts featuring farmers sharing their experiences with conservation practices; Virtual Shop Talks, a series of virtual meet-ups for farmers about various facets of conservation agriculture; and a mini-grant program that provided support to expand local farmer-led conservation efforts across the Basin.

This project is part of The North Central Region Water Network’s expanding portfolio of work to cultivate farmer leadership in conservation and watershed management, which also includes a newer project aimed at developing new farmer leadership training and a farmer outreach strategy that will combine relationship-driven outreach with data-driven communication.

“Farmers can be conservation leaders in several ways, from simply leading by example to taking on a more formal leadership role, such as serving on the board of a farmer-led watershed group,” said Jenny Seifert, Watershed Outreach Specialist at UW-Madison Division of Extension, who leads some of the Network’s farmer leadership programming. “The Network is creating resources and opportunities to not only empower more farmers to tap their leadership potential but also support professionals who partner and engage with farmers to implement conservation solutions on their operations.”

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