The sustainability of Wisconsin agriculture

Alsum Farms in Grand Marsh, Wisconsin using sustainable farming practices

By: Julia Nunes, 74th Alice in Dairyland

The word – sustainability – currently gets a lot of attention. Meriam Webster defines sustainability as: relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. When I hear “sustainability”, I think of the farmers who care for their land and resources to produce food and fuel for Wisconsin communities. For more than 175 years, Wisconsin farm families have been caring for the land to ensure resources are available for generations to come.

Every farm operation is different, but many have a common goal: to become a more efficient and profitable contributor to our nation’s food system and communities. Due to the modernization of dairy farming practices and dairy farmer’s commitment to sustainability, producing a gallon of milk releases 19 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than it did in 2007 and farmers use 90 percent less land per gallon.

Sustainable Farming Practices

One way that Wisconsin farmers are implementing sustainable farming practices is through digesters which turn cow manure into energy. Micro-organisms break down organic materials like cow manure or food waste in a process called anaerobic digestion. This happens in a closed tank, where there’s no oxygen, called a digester. There, bacteria break down the cow manure and food waste, creating biogas, which can be used for electricity, heat, compressed natural gas, and even vehicle fuel. There are currently more than 30 manure digesters in Wisconsin.

One Wisconsin operation that prides themselves on their sustainability efforts is Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo. Not only do they produce delicious cheese like mozzarella cheese and mascarpone, but also are a carbon-negative company. This means they produce more power than needed to fuel their business. The computer controlled anaerobic digestion system generates enough electricity to power the farm, cheese factory, and 300 area homes.

Wisconsin farmers are also implementing sustainable measures in the field. Alsum Farms & Produce, a Wisconsin potato grower, is continually working to improve soil conservation and planting techniques. They do this by planting and harvesting equipment with GPS technology which helps optimize planting efficiency and fuel consumption. Alsum Farms also utilize eco-friendly integrated pest management (IPM) techniques that conserve inputs, preserve water quality, restore native ecosystems, and protect wildlife.

Sustainable Food and Agriculture

It takes hard work to produce the food and fuel for our communities. You can become more sustainably conscious at home by being mindful of water usage and reducing food waste. Buying, preparing, and eating the right amounts of food is a great way to become more sustainable. When food is wasted, the natural resources that went into creating it are also wasted. You can also help raise awareness by sharing the sustainable practices and techniques that farmers are using.

For generations, Wisconsin farmers have been caring for our state’s rolling hills, sandy soils, and low-lying wetlands. Farmers and researchers work together to continuously improve on-farm sustainable practices.