Columbia County staff and supervisors set aside Monday afternoon for a trip through the country, enjoying the weather and seeing programs in action at ground level.
The Columbia County Land and Water Conservation Department held its annual Fall Conservation Tour highlighting efforts to promote farm renovation, water protection and land reclamation.
“We’ve done three or four (sites) in the past and it just got to be so much that we tried to target on certain things,” said Land and Water Conservation Department Administrative Secretary Kelly Maginnis. “The first farm had a lot of work put into it and we’ve helped with the cost-share, so it was a good spot. Especially since we were there in 2014, so we could do the updates and say this is where we are now.”
Setting out after an abridged 1 p.m. meeting, the convoy of agricultural tourists arrived at 2 p.m. at a farm outside Columbus where Adam Hahn raises about 200 head of beef cattle.
The group assembled at the edge of the yard, next to the inside fence line, where a line of cattle could be seen and heard in the background making its way along a path adjacent to a cornfield, leading to a pasture. Columbia County Director of Land and Water Conservation Kurt Calkins described the progress made at the site since the last visit in 2014. Improvements included a drop in phosphorus levels in the nearby stream corridor and an all-around cleaner environment for cattle and people.
“The challenge has been getting the cows used to it,” Hahn said. “But we’ve eliminated a lot of our summertime pneumonia.”
The renovations, in which Hahn took advantage of subsidies split 30 percent farmer and 70 percent support, involved negotiations with the owner of the land he rents and a 10-year plan.
“I hope that you guys can drive by in another 10 years and say, ‘Hey, I was there and it looks even better,’” Hahn said.
“He paid a lot more than his 30 percent,” said Conservation Technician Timothy O’Leary. “He ended up having to put up fencing on his own and he also added some other things on so this project would work better for him.”
The project included 3,500 feet of lane for his cattle, a heavy-use protection area, a watering pad and five stream crossings. The concrete stream crossings allow cattle to get back and forth, but the hard surface prevents them from lying down in the stream, where they might defecate directly in the waterway. Since starting the project, an estimated 2,500 pounds of phosphorous has been prevented from entering the waterway.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, roughly a quarter of the more than 700 bodies of water on the state’s impaired waters list fail to meet quality standards due to phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus can feed algae blooms, which choke out natural aquatic plant life and can be a skin irritant for people who spend time in the water.
By using rotational grazing, Hahn said he was able to reduce feed costs by 50 to 75 percent. From a marketing standpoint, the shift also opens up the possibility of a higher-value grass-fed product.
Hahn said it works for him, but it will be another year or so before he will have a clear measure of the balance between savings and leaner cattle.
“The consumer will determine what we do, and farmers will adapt,” Hahn said.
From the noise of cattle and diesel machinery, the tour moved on to a quiet spot outside Pardeeville on Highway 44: County Park along Park Lake.
Calkins said at sites like the lake, his department has split duties with the Highway Department, which is responsible for general upkeep, while his department works on conservation and public usability.
One of the plans to make the lake more accessible is to add a handicapped-accessible kayak ramp. O’Leary said trees would be replaced with more native plants. While many of the existing plants have roots that go down a few inches, native species go down for feet, protecting the soil from water and ice erosion.
“Hopefully the more we do, the more people other people along the lake see it and it isn’t a bad thing,” said Calkins. “Most people want their lawns going right up to the edge of the bank, but that’s really not good for the lake.”
Names and ideas for the tour are being floated for next year, according to Maginnis, with a shift to something on a larger scale.
“I think probably we’re probably switching from lake projects to more of farming projects and there were a few (department members) were tossing around this year that were more of the bigger farms – like in the Lodi area,” Maginnis said. “They were just waiting for them to do a little bit more work before we go back.”