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August 2nd, 2019

Nourishing the Land: Conservation Practices are Key to the Future of Farming

Almost 20 years ago, AFT released the groundbreaking report, “Farming on the Edge,” which vividly demonstrated how sprawling development was consuming America’s highest quality farmland in key regions of the country. But now, with the release of “Farms Under Threat: The State of America’s Farmland,” we have proof that America’s farmland is disappearing at a rate of three acres every minute.

Wisconsin is not only a state with some of the nation’s most productive farmland—it is a leader in several agricultural crops and earns the second largest in dairy products. The productivity, versatility, and resiliency of agricultural land for long-term cultivation depends on making sure that it doesn’t get destroyed by poorly planned development and that it is well-managed.

Wisconsin is home to thousands of farm families that deeply care for their land. One such farm that is also a leader in the dairy industry and practices resiliency on the farming landscape is Kinnard Farms in Casco, Wisconsin.

This spring, during a day-long event called the Extension Conservation Day, which hosted 300 sixth grade students in Kewaunee County, I had the opportunity to privately tour Kinnard Farms with one of the family farm owners, Lee Kinnard. Aerica Bjurstrom, UW-Madison Division of Extension agriculture agent and organizer for the event, stated, “The landscape is changing and so are our farms. We need to make sure the resiliency of the farm is maintained. Our children need to understand how important a farm is and how they can be part of conserving our resources.”

American farmland is changing and so are the types of farming operations. Lee stated, “I am worried for America’s future and farmland. It’s not like what it used to be and I have seen nearly half of the farms in the area disappear, whether that’s to retirement or urban development. I want to ensure our operation can survive for the next generation. I care so deeply for our land and our farmers.”

I honestly had no idea that I would be touring one of the largest farms in Wisconsin. And, when I learned this fact, I wanted to specifically know more about their commitment to environmental stewardship. I quickly learned that the Kinnard family takes their commitment to the environment very seriously. In-field practices on their farm include continuous-living cover on the land, no-till, grassed waterways, time-specific manure fertilizer, and more. These types of practices can increase the nutrient efficiency and agriculture profitability of the landscape, reduce sediment and nutrient losses, and make the agriculture community more resilient to extreme weather conditions.

“This is my passion, and this is my hobby. I live everyday trying to find a better way to do something— whether it is getting the best quality milk, or testing the soil to find the perfect nutrient balance.” – Lee Kinnard

In addition to in-field practices, Kinnard Farms engages in some more unique conservation activities including partnering with NRCS on a woodchip bioreactor that is measuring nitrogen run-off from one of the farm’s nearby fields nearly every hour. They also have a very unique sand recycling system, which is the only one in the world!

I have a good foundation of many different farming and soil health practices, but even I was overwhelmed by the number implemented on Kinnard Farms. I asked Lee what he does to unwind from constantly achieving his next goal. Lee expressed, “This is my passion, and this is my hobby. I live everyday trying to find a better way to do something— whether it is getting the best quality milk, or testing the soil to find the perfect nutrient balance.”

I too am worried about the future of farming in America, and I find it incredibly important to look at every individual and every farming type. Every farm is unique and important for America’s landscape—whether it’s a small organic farm, large operating farm, or a neighborhood community garden. The amount of effort and changing technology that goes into America’s farms and farmland amazes me beyond words. Even more amazing, the inspirational individuals that run these operations and how big of an impact they have on a community.

It is critical to balance the growing demands for energy, housing, transportation, and water to ensure our best agricultural land remains available for food and other crop production. Through thoughtful and carefully-implemented land use and agricultural policies, the nation can protect farmland and strategically direct development away from critical agricultural resources while nourishing the land with conservation practices and helping the farmers and ranchers who manage this landscape to thrive.