PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Every picture of Windy Hill Ranch helped describe the farm’s progress as Dan Shelliam narrated the story behind the successes and some of the failures.
“Farmer to Farmer – Regenerative Agriculture: healthy soils, clean water and increased profits” featured changes Shelliam implemented for crop and beef production at Windy Hill Ranch east of Hazel Green in Lafayette County. About 70 farmers, educators, and agriculture officials attended the slide show in Ullsvik Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville on Saturday afternoon, March 30, and many participated with questions and comments.
Moderator Gary Munson of Platteville defined regenerative agriculture. “To regenerate is to rebuild. It’s more than sustainability and more than conservation. It’s a way of using your land so you can rebuild your soil to make it healthier and more productive.”
Shelliam said he uses many conventional practices and standard equipment, but Windy Hill Ranch switched to more thorough plans, in-depth analysis of outcomes, increased use of no-till practices, and rotation grazing in 2012. The original goals included erosion control, soil nutrient cycling, and the forage supply. Soybean, corn, and winter wheat fields are planted with one or more cover crops (radish, oats, rye, peas, and others) to keep soil in place, boost soil fertility, and enhance grazing nutrition.
“We feed our mama cows as much of the cover crops as possible,” he said, citing one example. “It means better milk for calves to grow faster.”
A closeup soil surface photo taken in mid-January displayed several sizable earthworm channels and a test dig in 2018 showed deep worm holes that captured run-off water and nutrients. “Every cover crop has a purpose to it as to why we use it, and you can watch the soil to come to life,” Shelliam said. “Really, the cattle and the crops tell us what to do.”
He advised farmers interested in regenerative agriculture to speak with agriculture agents, cooperatives, and seed dealers when formulating custom plans. There are organizations and government agencies such as the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service that offer grants or incentives to farmers willing to try regenerative techniques, Shelliam said.
Dr. Andrew D. Cartmill, assistant professor of soil and crop science at UW-Platteville, who was a member of the panel discussion following Shelliam’s presentation, said farmers pursue efficient responses to economic factors and regenerative agriculture offers options. Cover crops aren’t new, he added, but farmers and researchers are learning how to more effectively use such practices.
“It’s always interesting to see someone try something new and be successful at it,” Cartmill said.
Sponsors for the event included Grant County Rural Stewardship, the UW-Platteville School of Agriculture, UW-Platteville Sustainability, the Crawford Stewardship Project, and the Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network. A grant from the Food, Faith, and Farming Network supported the event.
Written by Dave Ralph