Knowing Your Roots

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Coloma Farms

Steve Diercks and his son Andy have worked hard to protect the land they farm–2500 acres of vegetables and rotation crops on their 4th generation family farm west of Coloma in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin. Their farm office proudly displays the three environmental stewardship awards that they have received from both state and national organizations. The sustainable farming practices they pioneer are often on the cutting edge– incorporating the latest University of Wisconsin research, much of it conducted on their farm. But operating a sustainable and profitable farm, providing employment to local families, and contributing to the community (Steve is the former Coloma town chairman), is no longer enough to guarantee the sustainability of the rural community that they are a part of. “We need to be looking at the whole area that we live in.” says Andy, who also serves on the State Department of Agriculture Board. “We all depend on our groundwater, and ultimately it’s our job to do everything we can to protect it.” To pursue this end, the Diercks are actively collaborating with UW researchers to use water more efficiently throughout their entire farm operation. They have shown that irrigation water can be withheld from some crops, such as soybeans and corn, at non-critical growth stages without reducing yield. For other water-dependent crops, they use innovative software that times irrigation to exactly match the crop’s demand, therefore reducing water use on those crops too. Beyond the farm gate, they are working with the UW to install monitoring wells that continuously track groundwater fluctuations and help predict the impacts of climate and irrigation on nearby surface waters such as Pleasant Lake, which has recently exhibited lowered water levels. “This will be a lifelong process,” says Steve “but if we all work together, we can ensure a sustainable future for everyone in the Central Sands.”

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