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What Goes in Water Here Comes Out Down There

Gulf Coast fishermen are benefiting from conservation practices used by Wisconsin farmers. (Ken Cedeno/Getty Images)
Gulf Coast fishermen are benefiting from conservation practices used by Wisconsin farmers. (Ken Cedeno/Getty Images)
May 22, 2017

SPRING GREEN, Wis. – A group of farmers in southwestern Wisconsin's Driftless Area has become acutely aware that what gets into the watershed here can wind up hundreds of miles away.

These farmers use conservation practices to keep nutrients on their land and out of lakes and streams.

Margaret Krome, policy program director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, says nutrients that get into the water here follow a direct path down the Mississippi River.

"Those nutrients go shooshing right out into the Gulf of Mexico and create a zone with such high nutrients that they end up with a big algal bloom, and that sucks all the oxygen out of the water and kills other organisms,” she explains. “So it's a dead zone because fishermen can't fish there."

The Wisconsin farmers have developed a relationship with Gulf fishermen, who are appreciative of the farmers’ efforts to help improve fishing conditions in the Gulf.

Daniel Marquardt, owner of Hillside Pastures Farm near Spring Green, has taken several steps to keep nutrients out of the water.

"We're doing rotational grazing,” he explains. “Our farm is called Hillside for a reason. I don't think we have an acre of level ground.

“We keep cattle out of the creek. In the wintertime we try to feed the cattle out on the pastures. When the ground is frozen, that's what we do."

There's a farm tour this Thursday to demonstrate to farmers and anyone interested the kinds of things Marquardt and others are doing. Marquardt's farm is the second stop on the tour.

"We'll be showing people in the area about four acres that we have been clearing this winter to create a savannah-like environment on a hillside,” he states. “We kept the mature trees and all the oaks."

Farmers' time is valuable, and Krome says the tour, which will be followed by a lunch of brats and Gulf seafood, is designed to fit into a farmer's busy schedule. She says those who attend will come away with useful information.

"You have a bigger toolbox,” she states. “The more strategies you understand and consider, the more flexible you can be in response to any given situation, so I think a lot of farmers like to come and see what other farmers are doing."

More information about the event and registration is online at michaelfields.org.


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI