Wisconsin dairy farmers taking the lead on water management

Posted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on June 28, 2019
There’s a natural tension between agriculture and environmental stewardship—working the land to produce the food humans need is bound to take a toll on the environment. But Wisconsin dairy producers are leading the way with innovative practices that seek to minimize this environmental impact and strike a better balance, specifically with regard to water stewardship.

The Clear Water Farms Program, developed by the River Alliance of Wisconsin with support from the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) North America, is guiding Wisconsin farmers to implement the International Water Stewardship Standard, also known as the AWS Standard.

Miltrim Farms, a dairy producer in Marathon County, was the first pilot participant in the Clear Water Farms Program and is seeking official AWS certification this summer after bringing its operations in line with the standard. The farm was featured in a session yesterday in Milwaukee at the Water Leaders Summit, which draws water technology professionals from around the world to discuss industry issues.

“Dairies like Miltrim are gaining a deeper understanding of how water impacts their business and how they in turn impact shared water resources,” said Matt Howard, director for AWS North America, which is headquartered at The Water Council in Milwaukee. “Miltrim will lead the way in demonstrating that good business sense and water stewardship go hand in hand and can lead to a competitive advantage in this turbulent marketplace.”

Among other measures, as part of this process Miltrim Farms has committed to convert marginal land back to wetlands and pollinator habitat; reduce wash water by 15 gallons per day per head, for an annual water savings of 16 million gallons; incorporate no-tillage practices, cover cropping and manure protection to hold soil in place, naturally cycle nutrients, and enrich the soil biology; and create an environmental education center to engage community members and educate future farmers.

The AWS Standard, used worldwide across many different business sectors, offers guidance in not only identifying and mitigating water-related risks, but also in capitalizing on water-related opportunities. The pilot site is an example of this—as Howard noted, the Clear Water Farms Program guides farmers in not just becoming better stewards of water resources, but also in transitioning to high-quality farm products that increase profitability.

With the pilot project complete, the program will engage additional farmers in Marathon County and elsewhere in Wisconsin in implementing the AWS Standard. This is expected to lead to measurable improvement in water quality for Wisconsin’s rivers, streams and other bodies of water. It also stands to benefit the bottom line for dairy farmers, whose already tight margins are being squeezed by declining milk prices.

“Farms like Miltrim are the solution to our water crisis,” said Raj Shukla, executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, who spoke at the Water Leaders Summit presentation along with Howard. “The AWS certification and Clear Water Farms show producers how to cut costs, help the environment and strengthen local communities. The River Alliance of Wisconsin is excited to grow our partnership with the Alliance for Water Stewardship and future Clear Water Farms program participants.”

The Water Leaders Summit is an annual event hosted by The Water Council, which, as AWS’s official North America partner, leads implementation of the AWS Standard in North America.

The AWS Standard is the world’s only comprehensive water use standard that can be used by industrial, agricultural and commercial sites. The standard is internationally recognized, with claims verified by third-party conformity assessment bodies. Wisconsin is home to more than 30 sites certified to the AWS Standard, a number that grows each year.

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