WISCONSIN - On the Winter Solstice, December 21, four organizations issued a joint announcement about a partnership to protect clean water and thriving farms. Those organizations are Clean Wisconsin, the Dairy Business Association, the Nature Conservancy, and Wisconsin Land+Water.
The announcement was signed by Mark Redsten, president and CEO of Clean Wisconsin; Tom Crave, president of the Dairy Business Association; Elizabeth A. Koehler, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin; and Bob Micheel, president of Wisconsin Land+Water.
The announcement stated:
“We believe the current programs to permit farms and manage unintended agricultural runoff are in need of change. Together, our state must also invest more resources in helping people who don’t have access to clean water get it and in helping farmers grow our food with fewer negative environmental impacts. We need to support and encourage innovative farming practices and new cropping systems that improve farmers’ bottom lines and the environment.”
According to Wisconsin Land+Water president, Bob Micheel, the group had been working together behind the scenes for some time leading up to the joint announcement.
“Encouraging the state legislature to take up the bills that came out of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality and were passed by the Assembly will be our first order of business,” Micheel said. “As a result of delays related to COVID-19, and the Senate’s refusal to take up the bills, we’re going to have to start over on this.”
The announcement further stated:
“We live in challenging times, and these days it can feel like we disagree more often than not. There are, however, at least two things that most, if not all, of us can agree on — keeping our water clean and our farms successful. To achieve both here in Wisconsin, we need to do more than agree they are important. We need bold action.”
Micheel also pointed to the recently released Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change (TFCC) report as a catalyst to the organization’s decision to join together.
“If you look at the section of the report dedicated to agriculture, you’ll see that all of the recommendations deal with land conservation,” Micheel said. “Climate change is impacting everything, and farmers are being impacted severely. Farmers also have great potential to be a part of the solution.”
In addition, Micheel explained that going forward, when county land conservation departments are crafting their five-year plans, climate change mitigation will be a required part of it.
“Wisconsin Land+Water will be asking counties about whether the impacts of climate change have been recognized in their counties,” Micheel explained. “The challenge will then be to make plans for how each county can help to mitigate the impacts, whether through flood monitoring or other strategies to adapt to increasingly larger storm events.”
The introduction to the agriculture section of the TFCC report states:
“Globally, soils store two to three times more CO2 than the atmosphere and two to five times more carbon than is stored in vegetation. How we manage this carbon pool can have significant impacts on climate change. With nearly 900 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S., there is an enormous opportunity to rebuild soil organic carbon, sequester atmospheric carbon, and reduce CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions. Some estimates suggest that if the U.S. were able to adequately address economic, social, and technical barriers to implementing soil management best practices, U.S. croplands have the potential to sequester 1.5–5.0 billion metric tons of CO2e per year for 20 years. (CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, is a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming.)
The same agronomic practices that increase carbon sequestration also can help mitigate flood events, protect water quality, recharge groundwater, and increase resilience to drought. Recognizing the societal importance of food production, land managers and policymakers must strive to balance the protection of ecosystems for climate mitigation and other environmental co-benefits with the need to optimize agricultural management to feed a growing world population. The state of Wisconsin is a critical piece of this puzzle.”
The report provides four recommendations for agriculture’s role in slowing and reversing climate change:
• Support farmer-led watershed groups
• Pay farmers to increase soil carbon storage in agricultural and working lands.
• Avoid conversion of natural working lands
• Make managed grazing livestock production systems an agricultural priority
The joint announcement ended with a discussion of the role that farms can play in helping to solve some of the state’s most pressing issues.
“It’s time to rethink how we protect our water and support our farms,” the announcement stated.
“We can work toward a permitting process that supports farms that are meeting water quality standards, and we need to realize a future where every farm in the state is meeting a minimum set of conservation standards. We also recognize that in some sensitive parts of the state, farming practices will have to change more dramatically in order to protect our water resources, and our state needs to help those farmers adapt.
“We must invest in Wisconsin farmers and Wisconsin’s drinking water. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be free, but the results will be worth every penny. We need to support our farmers who already recognize clean water is good business and help others adjust their practices to better protect our water. Every resident in Wisconsin has a right to clean water; if they don’t have it, we have an obligation as a state to help them get it.“We cannot address clean water or the future of farming in Wisconsin as standalone issues; they are challenges that must be met together. Too often, policy disagreements have resulted in conflict and inaction instead of compromises and improvements. Our organizations are prepared to find common ground, to request bold changes from decision-makers, and to work toward a future where our state has clean water and a thriving agricultural community.”