Wisconsin farmers are putting more emphasis on the “green factor” as they look to create more sustainable agriculture.
Eric Brandt dipped a fishing net into a pool of water, slid it to one side, waited a moment, then lifted it upward.
The net suddenly shifted direction, and Brandt redirected, then brought the net to the surface, this time holding a 10-pound Atlantic salmon.
“Look at that. There it is,” Brandt, assistant aquaculture manager for Superior Fresh, a business near Hixton that raises the salmon and organic greens, told a young girl and her parents on the other side of a pool of water set up at the company’s exhibit as part of this year’s Wisconsin Farm Technology Days at Huntsinger Farms south of Eau Claire.
While the exhibit provided plenty of entertainment for Farm Technology Days attendees, it also serves as an example of environmentally friendly agricultural practices farm experts say are being implemented more frequently.
Large-scale farming and continued use of chemicals to grow crops have led to water quality issues in Wisconsin, prompting increased concerns.
Nitrate, a set of compounds that involve nitrogen and oxygen compounds, is the most common contaminant in Wisconsin, and farm runoff accounts for about 90% of nitrogen in groundwater in the state. About 10% of private wells sampled statewide exceed safe levels of nitrate in groundwater, the primary drinking water source for nearly 70% of state residents.
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Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 the year of clean drinking water in Wisconsin, and issues with polluted water since then have kept the topic on the front burner of public debate.
Further, agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, heavily contributing to climate change.
As he toured Wisconsin Farm Technology Days exhibits, state Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski noted not only the diversity of agricultural producers but efforts to farm using green technology.
“More farmers are looking at what they can do to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said. “They want agriculture to be sustainable going forward.”
That is certainly the aim of Superior Fresh, Brandt said. The farm in Jackson County utilizes numerous methods to limit water use while fertilizing the plants it grows in an environmentally friendly manner.
Water that houses the Atlantic salmon Superior Fresh raises is recycled after waste is filtered and is then used to fertilize the leafy greens the business raises and sells. The company also does native plant restoration on property it owns.
“The water is constantly recycling,” Brandt said Tuesday from the company’s exhibit at Farm Technology Days. “We try to be as green and efficient as possible.”
Others among the more than 500 exhibits at this year’s farm technology days event that continues through Thursday also are incorporating environmentally friendly practices into their farming operations.
Huntsinger Farms, the host of this year’s Farm Technology Days, last year installed nearly 300 solar panels that power about 20% of the farm’s energy needs. One year later, those panels are producing slightly more energy than was projected, said Ken Traaseth, vice president of agribusiness for Huntsinger Farms.
The farm also takes part in conservation efforts and grows cover crops which are then worked into the soil, adding nutrients while reducing soil erosion, Traaseth said.
“We’re trying to think about the green factor here,” he said. “We’re trying to do what’s right for the environment, to make agriculture sustainable into the future.”