By Katrina Vaitkus
In Marathon County, Wisconsin, the use of managed grazing practices is a critical piece of the conservation puzzle. The Marathon County Conservation Planning and Zoning (CPZ) Department plays a crucial role in teaching farmers about these sustainable practices and helping them develop and implement their own plans. 2018 and 2019 NACD Technical Assistance Grants allowed them to keep their Conservation Analyst Bill Kolodziej on staff to provide assistance to farmers.
According to Paul Daigle, Marathon County CPZ’s Land and Water Program Director, the grants helped get farmers up and running with managed grazing by developing plans and designing the systems necessary to implement them. Kolodziej was able to provide one-on-one consultations to tailor an individual plan for each farm to meet their management goals.
Through their grants, the department was able to follow up with farmers and help them through the process. “We always find the most success when we work with those farmers for the first two years of them implementing this practice,” Daigle said. “It’s not as easy as installing a waterway and walking away. This is a whole change in their farming system.”
The department also used their grant funds to help highlight Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) practices and their success through a variety of events. One such event was a pasture walk, where they highlighted the benefits of stockpiling grasses and legumes and how that helps increase wildlife habitat. Attendees learned how stockpiles improve soil organic matter and in turn, improve infiltration. This infiltration is tied to increases in the basal flow to the two local trout streams that provide crucial wildlife habitat.
To Daigle, one of their bigger successes was the ability to assist two young dairy farmers with managing cattle in their pastures. In 2018, the department helped them write managed grazing plans, and in 2019, helped them through Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and CSP projects to install some grazing practices enhancements.
“We were able to provide managed grazing knowledge to the farmers, as well as build a network of farmers learning from farmers to ensure profitable farms while protecting the environment,” Daigle said.