Water Stewardship in Agriculture

Wisconsin farms look to the AWS Standard to address water quality challenges


By: Dylan Waldhuetter, Alliance for Water Stewardship North America Program Manager



The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) has made significant inroads within the Food and Beverage processing and manufacturing sector. As we continue to work toward watershed-scale achievement of the four outcomes of water stewardship as encapsulated within the structure of the International Water Stewardship Standard – “AWS Standard” (good water quality, sustainable water balance, good water governance and healthy status of Important Water-Related Areas), it is critical that we engage agricultural producers who are important users of water and contributors to local economies.

Recognizing the AWS Standard as a mechanism for engaging farmers, the River Alliance of Wisconsin has facilitated implementation of the standard with two dairy farms in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Miltrim Farms and Dic-Wisco Farms have started their water stewardship journeys in agriculture by being the first dairy farms to implement the AWS Standard in North America.

Titled the “Clear Water Farms Program,” this effort is a joint initiative of AWS North America and the River Alliance of Wisconsin aimed at piloting the AWS Standard in the Wisconsin dairy sector and developing a template approach for use of the standard within the broader agricultural industry.

Times are tough for farms, notably in Wisconsin which had the second-most farm bankruptcies in the nation in 2017. At the same time, over 407,000 acres of our lakes and 6,575 miles of rivers in Wisconsin are listed as “impaired” by phosphorus, much of it from agriculture. To address these challenges, farmers need to generate high-quality farm products that increase farm profitability, while implementing practices that make them better stewards of water resources.

The AWS Standard is the mechanism for guiding these farms through a process of evaluating and enhancing water stewardship performance in their agricultural practices and achieving credible, stakeholder recognition of their efforts.

The goals for the project include:

The two initial pilot farms (Miltrim and Dic-Wisco) are paving the way for other Wisconsin farmers to implement the AWS Standard by breaking through early-adopter barriers and creating scalable frameworks to ease the path to certification. As more farmers implement the AWS Standard in an effort to achieve excellence in water stewardship performance, we will be able to point to the AWS Standard as the mechanism for collective water stewardship benefits including improved water quality and thriving agricultural businesses and communities.