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Like a Library Book, WI Farmers Share Equipment for Conservation

This Wisconsin farmer is using an air-seeder, which helps spread seeds for cover crops while work is being done on cash crops. The donated equipment is aimed at getting more farmers to adopt conservation practices. (Adobe Stock)
This Wisconsin farmer is using an air-seeder, which helps spread seeds for cover crops while work is being done on cash crops. The donated equipment is aimed at getting more farmers to adopt conservation practices. (Adobe Stock)
October 13, 2020

SEYMOUR, Wis. -- The fall harvest is here, and while many farmers say they wish to add conservation to their to-do-list, it's not always easy. In northeastern Wisconsin, one piece of equipment is giving producers the chance to adopt environmentally friendly practices.

There's been renewed interest in methods such as cover crops, which improve soil health and prevent harmful runoff to waterways, but the initial costs and time it takes to apply seed can serve as a barrier. Outagamie County officials have teamed up with the Nature Conservancy to provide an "air-seeder" for local farmers to share.

Jeremy Freund, project coordinator with the county, said the seeder attaches to machines, including those used for tillage work this fall.

"So, that air-seeder has little tubes that you can run anywhere on any piece of equipment, and tillage makes sense because you're disturbing the soil. And the tillage equipment does its thing for the farmer, but it also incorporates the seed," Freund said.

Meaning farmers can do two jobs at once. The Nature Conservancy donated the air-seeder and the county's Land Conservation department purchased supplemental gear for it.

The county says over the past five years, a handful of producers have used it, to great success. And they say farmers from outside the area can use it too.

A farmer based in Seymour was one of the first to use the air-seeder. Troy Ulmer said it's been beneficial to his operation because it's hard to rent equipment like this from ag dealers. He said he was able to use it again this summer and plans to go back to it in the future.

"I planted the cover crops between the corn rows," Ulmer said. "You know, it was a very minimal charge to use the equipment; otherwise, I would have had no means to put the cover crop in."

Nicole Van Helden, director of resilient lands at The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, said this "library approach" of borrowing necessary equipment adds another option to the conservation movement within agriculture. She said state and federal incentive programs are great, but they don't cover everything a farmer might need to get things going. And implementing other ideas provides flexibility.

"Farmers are really creative and they're great problem solvers. And so, what works on one farm may or may not work for someone else," Van Helden said. "And so, having programs and equipment and knowledge sharing opportunities that allow people to figure it out for their own farm I think is really helpful."

Van Helden said convincing more farmers to try out conservation methods could do well for her area in the Fox River watershed. She said preventing harmful runoff from farmland can limit algae growth in places like the bay in Green Bay.

Those interested in borrowing the equipment are urged to contact the Outagamie County Land Conservation department.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy - Midwest Region contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Sustainable Agriculture, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI