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The Tree

T h e U W D i s c ove r y Fa r m s N e w s l e t t e r

Winter 2014

Special Edition: The Farmer’s Voice TIME FLIES WHEN YOU’RE HAVING FUN! Joe Bragger, Steering Committee Chairman In 2000, Dennis Frame, Fred Madison and others felt that working with farmers was the best way to make great gains in meeting water quality and environmental goals. Many individuals agreed with the idea, thinking “of course you have to work with farmers; they control the majority of the land that drains into our water bodies.” Where people and projects go wrong is in thinking that working with farmers means knowing what the problem is and telling farmers how to fix it, often using a one size fits all approach. The Discovery Farms program was different and took the approach of working with the farmer to find out the challenges of each farm. By understanding the farm’s system and listening to the farmer, a partnership was developed. The partnership is important because often times the farmers not only knew the high risk areas of their farms to address, but had innovative and unique ways to fix or improve the situation. Discovery Farms was built on farmer leadership and their approach was reinforced with the creation of a continued on next page


Time flies when you’re having fun!...............................................1 Generations at Saxon Homestead Farm, LLC........................ 1 2013 Discovery Farms Winter Conference........................ 2 Herricks Family Named Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award Finalist...................................................................... 3 Parting thoughts from a Discovery Farm Graduate....... 4

The next generation of farm managers at Saxon Homestead Farm feeding calves.



omesteaded in 1850, Saxon Homestead Farm, LLC located near Cleveland, Wisconsin is currently owned and operated (since 1980) by fifth generation farmers Gerald and Elise Klessig Heimerl, Robert and Kathleen Block Klessig, Karl and Liz Klessig and their families. Currently the farm consists of 500 Holstein, Brown Swiss, and Jersey cross cows, 500 female young stock, and 200 stocker steers. Saxon dairy cows spring seasonally calve and graze 850 acres of permanent continued on page 5

research projects and making sure that the mission of the Discovery Farms program is carried out: “The Discovery Farms program develops onfarm and related research to determine the economic and environmental effects of agriculture practices on a diverse group of Wisconsin farms; and educate and improve communications among the agricultural community, consumers, researchers and policy-makers to better identify and implement effective environmental management practices that are compatible with profitable agriculture.”

Joe Bragger explains his farming system to a film crew.

The original vision was of farmers and researchers collaborating on real life farms throughout Wisconsin. From that, we’ve grown a program that has done research on 20 different farms around the state and includes whole watersheds. Discovery Farms has made a huge difference to not only Wisconsin farmers but to farmers in several other states that have adopted similar “Discovery Farms” programs that now routinely meet to go over findings and see what research can be built upon on at a multi-state level.

steering committee made up of farmers from across the state representing almost every major commodity group. Key farm organizations also have a seat at the table, as well as environmental organizations. I’d like to extend an invitation to all environmental and farm groups to contact us about joining the steering committee. It’s a great opportunity to work with this farmerled organization to determine current topics or issues, how to address them, and most importantly communicate these findings with other farmers, policy makers and the public. The steering committee is actively engaged in prioritizing agricultural/environmental issues that are not only current but may be a concern in the future, choosing farms to participate in monitoring and

While some of the faces in leadership may change over time, the vision of a farmer-led organization with a strong commitment to the previously mentioned mission will continue to serve Wisconsin agriculture and the environment for years to come. §



hank you to all who attended the 2nd annual Discovery Farms Winter Conference on December 11th titled, “Ag at the Head of the Table: Innovative Partnerships to Address Water Quality Targets.” More than 90 farmers, agency representatives, consultants, engineers and land trust groups came together for the one day event to discuss water quality in Wisconsin. One of the important themes of the conference revolved around the successful partnerships that have been formed to meet the water quality goals important to Wisconsin’s agriculture community and our natural resources. All attendees benefitted from the discussion on how to use realistic expectations to gain success in implementation of management tools and projects statewide. This event came to life following UW Discovery Farms staff and Steering Committee members having been involved with recent discussions and forums with regulatory agencies about implementation of water quality goals. It became apparent that there was need for all stakeholder groups to discuss the facts and showcase current implementation efforts. Topics that were especially important to feature included Wisconsin’s adaptive management option in the Phosphorus Rule, using models to target activities and predict losses, and innovative partnerships that are focused on addressing water quality goals in unconventional ways. The goal of this event was to create a space for all of the stakeholders of this topic to gather, learn together and discuss in a meaningful way. To download presentations from the Winter Conference, visit: Education/2013WinterConference.aspx 2 The Tree-Winter 2014



arming is a generational business. The success of previous generations feeds the success of future generations. I have been actively farming our family farm since 1971. My wife, Pat, and I have never gained an income from work outside of the farm. Our farm is an operating dairy farm that currently supports four different families including my wife and I and our three children and their families. Over time the reality has set in that I am not an owner but a caretaker of a number of resources that God has entrusted to my family’s care and usage. Being a producer of food to feed God’s people is a calling that carries much responsibility.

Jack and Pat Herricks

planted contours, and I made a promise to myself that there had to be a better way and I was going to find it. The next year I convinced a farmer from about ten miles away to come and no-till about fifteen acres for us. By the spring of 1986 we had purchased our own no-till corn planter. I compare our commitment to no till to a successful marriage: I knew we were in it for better or worse, and even in the hard times I wasn’t going to give up. Over the next 12-15 years the system really started working for us, and we started to no-till corn for many farmers around the area. Often times it was only 5-10 acres the first year or two, but they needed someone to demonstrate for them that this practice was for real. I feel very proud to have been a part of creating the movement to no-till cropping in our area.

The conservation ethic that I have today is not something that was acquired. It was developed in me in my early youth while growing up on our farm as a natural way of how we do things. A lasting impression was left on me when my Dad was going to have the first waterway constructed on our farm, and we had to pick up all of the field rock that had been dumped into the ditches in the area before construction could begin. In the early days of my career the use of strip cropping on the contour and maintaining waterways were the most important conservation practices. We continue to reshape and construct waterways. Just a few months ago, staff from the Monroe County Land Conservation Department and our local NRCS engineer came out to lay out some new contours. Every few years they come out and help us redefine and maintain this practice, as it is still very important to control erosion on our land. In 2010, they helped us redefine these contours on several fields that we rent from a local landowner. It seems as if we are doing some project or another every year.

In 1996 we began the process of growing our dairy herd from 80 cows to today’s herd of 600. With the growth of the dairy herd a new challenge developed with manure management. The fertilizer value of the dairy manure is an integral part of allowing us to be low cost, sustainable producers. I participated in the nutrient management courses offered many years ago, where I learned that we could use more credits from our manure. This has allowed us to decrease the commercial nitrogen and phosphorus we buy and apply, and increase the efficiency of inputs based on crop and soil needs. Through rotational soil testing we can fine tune our nutrient application and have proof that our practices have increased our soil’s organic matter.

While we were continuing to refine our conservation practices, plowing, chisel plowing, discing, drag harrowing and cultimulching were all still acceptable practices. In the early 1980’s, I started hearing and reading about no-till. There were many non-believers. In fact most farmers would just flat out tell you that it wouldn’t work. In late May 1984 a neighbor stopped to ask if we could help him get his cattle back in that were out in our fields. During that little roundup, I saw the ditches in our newly

A few years ago we decided to work in partnership with a crop consultant to help us carefully follow a 590 nutrient management plan. We emphasize hauling to crop acres that are furthest away when road conditions are best and hauling to “closer in” acres when hauling conditions are 3

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more challenged. We’ve identified the fields furthest from water and with the least slope for winter hauling. If one area of the farm doesn’t receive manure one year it will be the first area to be spread the next year. Corn acres receive most of the manure, as we see the largest economic benefit from the nutrients. Alfalfa acres are spread only as they are coming out of production and going to be rotated or prior to the seeding year when establishing rye as the nurse crop for new seeding. Along with careful manure management to fields where it is needed, we’ve begun applying commercial nitrogen via many different methods, including split application so that the nitrogen is applied right at the crop growth stage when it is needed and the least possible amount is lost to the environment.

PARTING THOUGHTS FROM A DISCOVERY FARM GRADUATE The Riechers Beef Family—Mark, Jan, Joe, Jeff and Mark Riechers

The partnership with our crop consultant has been a productive one. Each year we work together to plan out several years of rotation, and then every year adapt to changes and challenges presented to us by weather. This year our challenge was acres we couldn’t plant due to the wet spring. We used these areas to manage our summer manure needs and seeded them to cover crops before fall to hold onto the nitrogen and protect the soil from winter and spring runoff.

Joe, Jan and Mark Riechers


want to share a few thoughts on Discoveries we found useful to solving environmental predicaments. More or less, these are the problems we have identified, and either our workable fixes, or ways we work around them.

The dairy is an important part of our cropping business, and the cropping business would not be as profitable without the dairy. We can grow high yielding corn and alfalfa without incurring huge out of pocket commercial fertilizer costs. It’s as simple as the healthier our soils, the better quality and quantity of feed we can produce to feed to healthy high producing dairy cows.

Participating with the University of Wisconsin as a Discovery Farm has been very rewarding. They have published nine research papers validating our system of farming as being sustainable from an economic, societal, and environmental perspective. We went into this program with confidence in our farming system and came out with even more; and the data to back it up. Through this program, we have measured and shared the results of our practices. We have provided data demonstrating our sustainability. I hope you will consider your impact on your own farms and the reputation of other farmers, as you farm and create your own legacy.

I truly believe that farming is a generational business. The ultimate measure of sustainability is the ability to bring the next generation into the business. In each of the last three years, we have achieved new all time high levels of profitability for our farm, which has assisted us with including two of our three children as shareholders of the family corporation. The third is very involved with the farm as a departmental manager. When the family was growing up I often discussed with them that I would sure be pleased if one or more of them wanted to farm, but also told them that farming could probably be one of the worst things to do if you didn’t like it. I felt it was very important to always speak positively about farming as a lifestyle. I relayed to them that I’ve never had a job, I’ve just always done what I always wanted to do. Having all three of our children employed full time by the farm for over six years now wasn’t anticipated but is certainly welcome. §

Identifying and avoiding potential problems is one way to solve them, or at least move the odds in our favor. It is a privilege to share these thoughts as a way to help my fellow farmers avoid some environmental hazards and risks, so we can all be more profitable farmers, better stewards of our farms, and better able to leave a legacy our children may want to carry on. I believe, if we, together as modern farmers, do not show the proper efforts to farm in a socially sustainable manner, we will lose our freedom to road test new ideas and be creative in our management choices. We will be 4

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We try to clean cattle pens prior to normal rains. This results in less tons of material (and water) to haul and or stockpile, and means we are less apt to compact the soil. Rain also incorporates the manure into soil, thus, decreasing the risks of runoff in the event of a heavy rain later. By monitoring soil moisture, we are better able to estimate when a normal rainfall (something less than two inches on soil that is not close to saturation) will be beneficial to help naturally incorporate the manure.

The Mark and Jan Riechers Family, July 2012

Manure is stockpiled during the crop growing season and during times when runoff is likely or compaction of the soil is inevitable.

left to live with the results of someone else making the choices for us. This will diminish the satisfaction our families deserve from farming. I want my family to enjoy their work and their lives so we are highly motivated to avoid environmental injury and external interference.

By covering open feedlots, we have lessened the risk of feedlot runoff from heavy precipitation and increased our chances of keeping the lots clean prior to spring thaw. Covered lots are warmer so we have a better chance to clean the pens during the coldest time of the year and can spread the manure prior to the very highrisk time for manure losses, which is in the spring. This also reduces the need for manure storage.

We were encouraged by our partners from UW-Extension to be open-minded and creative when addressing problems. Paired with an optimistic attitude and supportive staff, below are a few simple practices we found helpful.

Crop residue levels have been measured and are adequate for soil erosion control. When we cut corn for silage, we cut it relatively high. The portion left isn’t highly digestible and offers significant soil protection. I believe it also attracts heat from sunlight and increases snow melt and water infiltration in late winter. Where our corn was combined, we chop the stalks and gather the residue for bedding. We still leave about 50% or more of the soil surface covered, protecting it from water and wind erosion.

Direct planting, or no-till, avoids loosening soil’s natural stability and it will be less likely to erode. Sounds simple enough when you say what you are not doing, tillage, but it is also a well thought-out system of avoiding traffic and compaction. Proper nutrient and pest control applications are critical. And the use of a planter, adapted to proper placement of seeds in high residue, solid soil, takes a new set of skills and patience. Due to improved soil and moisture conservation, our direct plant yields are comparable to, or better than, yields from tilled land.

For more information on Riechers Beef, visit: http:// §

We continue to struggle with soil losses on end rows. The primary direction of travel is across the 3-9% slopes. It’s not true contour farming, but what we call crossslope planting. And even these angles are varied from year to year to alter surface flow concentrations. The end rows are still up and down the slopes and prone to erosion which we want to mitigate. We have some grass field ends and are trying some farm-over terraces on the field edges. This is a work-in-progress, and we are still looking for better solutions.


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pastures. An additional 165 acres of corn silage and alfalfa are raised to supplement livestock rations. Saxon farmers also care for and manage 135 acres of pristine wood and wildlife land. In addition to milk, the farm produces grass-fed finished beef, stocker steers, replacement dairy cattle, and maple syrup. The business has five full time employees with annual gross revenues over $2,000,000.

Our manure management scheme is to apply manure in small, multiple doses avoiding overloading the soil structure with more than it can absorb or more than its living components can digest.

Long lasting family and business relationships, rotational grazing, working lands preservation, and environmental 5

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Cattle heading to the parlor for milking at Saxon Homestead Farm.

stewardship are the foundation of Saxon’s farming business success. The partners take great pride in the virtues of their farming system, heritage, and history, and their rural and family values. Building partnerships to diversify, create, and grow new businesses has always been an emphasis.

developed an Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Nutrient Management, Feed Management, and Pest Management Plan. Between 2005 and 2011, Saxon Homestead Farm was a University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms program research farm. The mission of the Discovery Farms program is to gather on-farm research data which may be used to determine the environmental and economic effects of currently available Best Management Practices (BMPs).

Commitment to Environmental Stewardship and working lands preservation: Environmental stewardship and working lands preservation has always been an important part of Saxon Homestead Farm. Environmental ethics were shaped by their father, Ed Klessig, who was lucky enough to cite Aldo Leopold when he was attending college in 1939 at UW-Madison. He took great pride in managing his woodlots, making maple syrup, installing contour crop strips, building a farm pond, reducing use of agri-chemicals and fertilizers, and saving farmland. In 1976 he camped one month on the capital lawn with four dairy cows to protest the proposed cross-country construction of Interstate 43 between Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis. The farm partners worked with (20082009) the WI Department of Agriculture and Gathering Waters Conservancy to help reform Wisconsin’s working lands preservation program and develop Wisconsin’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program, the first permanent working lands easement program in its history. Saxon farmers started grazing their dairy livestock in 1989 and working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Manitowoc County Soil and Water Conservation Service developed comprehensive grazing plans for their farm and livestock. These plans are the foundation of pasture management on the farm; they delineate pasture layout, fencing, raceway design, livestock watering on pasture, stockpiling winter forage, winter sacrifice areas, manure management; pasture establishment and rotation, and long term system upkeep. Grazing management plans protect water quality, control soil erosion, maintain wildlife habitat, and sustain long term productivity and profitability.

99 In 2005/2006 Saxon partners completed a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. The farm was awarded an EQIP contract to expand their manure storage facility, install roof gutters, and improve drainage on the farmstead. 99 In 2009 Saxon Homestead Farm was accepted into the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Saxon enrolled a total of 954 acres of cropland/ pastureland into the program. 99 In 2010 an Environmental Management System was developed by the farming business. 99 Finally, in 2011, the farm received an EQIP contract thru the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to reshape the grassed waterway (Centerville Creek) which runs through the main farm. There was not an erosion concern, but a sedimentation concern/ build up in the waterway which made pasture management more challenging thereby impacting water quality. The intermittent stream is over 3500’ long; by cleaning and shaping the stream corridor water quality will be positively impacted according to NRCS Grassed waterway standards. All woodlots on Saxon Homestead Farm are managed to enhance forest regeneration, species diversity and the growth of desirable trees and shrubs. These sections are thinned to remove dead, diseased, or undesirable trees. Woodlot management enhances wildlife habitat. Community: Saxon Homestead partners believe that staying involved and giving back to one’s community is

Saxon farmers continue to improve environmental management of farm resources. The farm partners 6

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of great importance. The farming families have supported and continue to support many local organizations and events. Saxon Homestead Farm currently hosts an annual barn dance to raise funds for organizations that conserve farmland and natural resources, support beginning and continuing farmers, and sustain vibrant, rural communities to improve rural life in Wisconsin.

Robert Klessig moving cows between paddocks.

to provide for his wife and nine children. In 1870, the Klessig’s diversified dairying and built the first cheese factory in the Township of Centreville. Friederich’s son and new wife, Otto and Sophia, bought the farm in 1885 and added pork, lumber, and various cash crops to the farm’s economic base. Their small cheese factory prospered and they processed over 6000 pounds of milk per day. Edwin and Alvina became the third generation and in 1915 added cedar telephone poles, maple syrup, and apples to its already multifaceted income pool.

The farm currently is a member of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Manitowoc County Chamber of Commerce, Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, Gathering Waters Conservancy, and the River Alliance of Wisconsin. Saxon Homestead Farm received the River Champion Award for excellence in stewardship in 2004, the Distinguished Agricultural Leader Award in 2005, and the Manitowoc-Two Rivers Chamber of Commerce Cooperation Recognition Award in 2006. Karl and his family received the 2012 Honorary Recognition Award from the University of Wisconsin-College of Agricultural & Life Sciences (CALS).

In 1953, Edward and Margret Klessig became the fourth generation owners of the expanding operation. He doubled the 45 cow herd to 90 cows and moved into a totally confined free-stall milking parlor setup. In 1980, son Karl and son-in-law Jerry entered into a partnership with Edward, and in 1989, son Robert joined. The fifth generation partners expanded the conventional confinement operation to 150 cows and farmed this way through 1990. They say history repeats itself and since 1991, after careful deliberation on a 10 year planning mode, Saxon Homestead farmers cautiously and incrementally “step-stoned” from total confinement/conventional dairying to seasonal, management intensive rotational grazing.

Business Diversification: In 2006 Saxon farmers opened Saxon Sunrise, a vacation rental home on Lake Michigan. The partners believe in showcasing agriculture and their farm to guests and offer tours of the creamery and farm; many guests participate in these tours. In 2007 Saxon farmers partnered with two associates and opened Saxon Homestead Creamery, a small, specialty cheese factory. Their vision was to develop a family of world class, great tasting cheeses based upon the virtues of our core values, pasture based farming, environmental, and working lands stewardship.

We have learned to improve on a centuries-old technique that relies on animal power to harvest forage and make milk and meat. We control when, how long and how often animals feed on growing forage. The cow becomes the harvester and manure spreader. Our machinery is lightweight fencing, powered with low impedance, high voltage energizers. We rely on our livestock to endure all weather conditions. Heifers, dry cows, and stocker steers are outside year round. Winter feed is stored in trench silos for fast harvest and easy fast feeding. To be successful, a grazier must rethink his conventional paradigm, be extremely flexible, and utilize what Mother Nature gives one. We have become masters of both conventional agriculture and grass farming. In a sense, the physical back work and our reliance on machinery get refocused to our mind and our eyes.

In 2008 Saxon farmers renovated the dairy barn built by their great, great grandparents in the 1860s into what is now a beautiful building that is used for family and community events. The barn also allows them to showcase Saxon Homestead Creamery cheeses to their buyers and the general public. The barn is lined with historical items from their family and neighborhood; it is equipped with a stage, sound system, and serving tables. They have hosted several large family and community events most recently hosting the fourth annual fund raiser barn dance for Gathering Waters Conservancy, Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, and the University of Wisconsin’s School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. History: Friederich and Elizabeth Klessig purchased 160 acres of pristine Manitowoc County in 1850. Wheat was the main crop during the Civil War and Friederich was able to take advantage of the high selling price of wheat

For more information on Saxon Homestead, visit: § 7

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University of Wisconsin


Cooperative Extension Trempealeau County Discovery Farms PO Box 429, 40195 Winsand Drive Pigeon Falls, WI 54760-0429

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For more information and to stay connected: This newsletter can be found on the web at: Regarding the mailing list, call/e-mail 715-983-5668 or

Co-Directors Eric Cooley
 608-235-5259 Amber Radatz 608-317-0001 Outreach Specialist Kevan Klingberg
 715-983-2240 Program Assistant Judy Goplin
 715-983-5668 Research Specialist Aaron Wunderlin 920-839-5431 Dry Run Watershed Coordinator Todd Prill 715-225-0862 Communication Specialist Rochelle Ripp Schnadt 608-692-1200

UW Discovery Farms is a producer-led research and outreach program based out of the University of Wisconsin-Extension. The program is unique in that it conducts research on working farms located throughout Wisconsin, seeking to identify the impacts of production agriculture on water quality. The program is managed by faculty from the University of Wisconsin, along with oversight from a steering committee of producers, citizens and agency personnel representing a wide variety of non-profit and government organizations. Funding has been provided by the State of Wisconsin, UW-Extension, as well as a number of annual grants from producer groups and our federal partners. An EEO/Affirmative Action employer, University of Wisconsin-Extension provides equal opportunities in employment and programming, including Title IX and ADA requirements. Request for reasonable accommodation for disabilities or limitations should be made prior to the date of the program or activity for which it is needed. Publications are available in alternative formats upon request. Please make such requests as early as possible by contacting the Discovery Farms office at 715-983-5668 so proper arrangements can be made.

UW Discovery Farms - 2014 Winter Newsletter  

In this issue, we take a different approach in sharing the voice of the farmers we work with. You will read the first hand experiences from...

UW Discovery Farms - 2014 Winter Newsletter  

In this issue, we take a different approach in sharing the voice of the farmers we work with. You will read the first hand experiences from...