Northeast Wisconsin is home to Green Bay, the world ‘ s largest freshwater estuary. The region is also responsible for 30 percent of the state ‘ s milk production. Historically, ” big dairy ” and ” clean water ” would have been viewed as the ultimate contradiction. However, there are six local producers who are working hard to implement conservation practices to reduce their impact on our shared water resources. They are the six participating farms in the Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network (otherwise known as Fox Demo Farms). At the end of 2016, Whitney Passint, a Natural Resources Educator with UW-Extension, was brought on to tell the Fox Demo Farms story.
The Fox Demo Farms project is a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded project, designed to demonstrate leading edge conservation practices that reduce sediment and phosphorus loading into the Fox River and bay of Green Bay. Since the project ‘ s inception in 2014, the producers have made great strides to improve soil health and water quality by planting cover crops and adopting no-till practices. Whitney’s first task was to design and implement a comprehensive outreach plan that would reach the project ‘ s primary audience, producers in the Lower Fox River Watershed.
To ensure maximum reach, Whitney’s outreach plan utilized a wide range of media outlets, including traditional news outlets (i.e., radio and television), as well as modern technology (i.e., website, social media, mass text messaging services). During the 2017 growing season, the Fox Demo Farms teamed up with a local radio station to produce a semi-monthly segment, ” Lessons Learned on the Fox Demo Farms “. The segments featured a farmer or other agricultural professional, who shared their experiences with a specific and timely topic. Partnering with Mike Austin, a trusted agricultural reporter, helped reach our target audience while bringing a sense of reliability to these practices.
Modern technology has allowed the Fox Demo Farms to communicate with a broad audience through social media and mass text messaging services. Through Facebookand Twitter, they have reached thousands of people with educational content and videos, which demonstrate the importance of conservation agriculture and how our producers are making it work on their land. One of the most effective ways to reach agricultural producers is via text message, which has led to the development of ” Field Days on the Fly “. More than 100 producers have signed on to their list to receive alerts about spontaneous field days.
Additionally, Fox Demo Farms initiated a watershed-wide effort to distribute field signs that promote cover crops and no-till practices, while linking these practices to clean water. The signs serve as a social norming tool encouraging neighboring farms to implement conservation practices on their land. Furthermore, they act as an educational tool for the community who may not recognize the actions that producers are taking to protect our local water resources. Building community support for conservation agriculture is an important element of the comprehensive outreach plan and one that we look forward to working on in the future.