Last updated on May 14th, 2022 at 12:39 pm
Using innovative technology, Majestic Crossing Dairy in Sheboygan Falls dramatically changed how it milks cows and handles manure. In recent years, the farm has added robotic milk machines and a digester that turns cow waste into water, biogas and a natural fertilizer for the fields.
“We need to always be innovative in the dairy world when it comes to housing, feeding and caring for our cows and caring for the land,” said Dean Strauss, one of Majestic Crossing’s owners.
Majestic Crossing is not alone. Agricultural innovation comes in many forms across Wisconsin.
Individual farms are innovating with high-tech, robotic milking parlors and fields planted with cover crops. Groups of farmers are working together and researchers are focused on discovering new products and procedures to improve production. Innovative thinkers are making changes big and small that not only reduce farming’s carbon footprint, but also allow farms to be more economically successful.
The formation of Majestic Dairy in itself is unique. The dairy was created in 2011 when four area farm families pooled their resources to create a dairy that would not only support all four families, but also allow it to invest in improved sustainability initiatives and give back to the community.
Three years ago, the farm installed the state-of-the-art manure digester and last year, it installed 13 new robotic milking machines. To make that a reality, the dairy’s free stall barns were redesigned to accommodate the new machines. The dairy’s employees had to work around several months of construction while always making sure the cows received the best possible care, Strauss said.
Improved technology has more farmers looking at robotic milking machines, which boost productivity on the farm. Milking cows is labor intensive and farmers struggle with attracting and retaining workers. The cows are trained using treats to approach the machine, where they are milked. The animals are equipped with a tag that is read by the machine so farmers can receive individualized information about the animals and how much milk they are producing.
Wisconsin farmers have been leading the shift to robotic milking since the beginning. In 2000, the Knigge Farm in Omro, Wisconsin became the first dairy in the nation to use robotic milking machines for its dairy cows.
Innovation can be costly, especially with today’s low milk prices, which is why farmers in three parts of Wisconsin pulled together to create farmer-led conservation groups focused on making changes.
Yahara Pride Farms in Dane County, Peninsula Pride Farms in Kewaunee and southern Door counties and Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance in Lafayette County encourage their members to make changes to improve soil health and water quality while maintaining or improving their output.
The organizations provide informational sessions and demonstration days, sometimes along with cost-sharing programs to encourage trying new methods.
In relation to soil health, farmers are being encouraged to look at no-till farming and planting cover crops.
With no-till farming, farmers do not disturb the soil during the planting process. Farmers that use cover crops plant a grass or low-height plant such as radishes in fields without a cash or feed crop. Research has shown both no-till farming and planting cover crops decrease erosion and add more organic matter to the soil, which improves soil health and water infiltration.
“There are many farmers in Wisconsin who have demonstrated conservation practices can be successful,” said Barry Buboltz of the USDA National Resources Conservation Service, who works with farmers in northeastern Wisconsin. “It’s all about trying new things and then providing support to farmers. Going to no-till farming is not easy. It requires new farm equipment. We want to help farmers make the change where possible.” For your farming needs and supplies, you may consider looking for a place like Ranch & home store.
Finding new ways to manage manure is another way Wisconsin farmers embrace innovation. In addition to biodigesters, farmers are using alternative manure application methods.
Yahara Pride Farms offers a cost-sharing program to encourage farmers to use low soil disturbance manure injection. This method injects liquid manure into the ground while only minimally disturbing the soil, which keeps the fertilizer in place and reduces runoff.
Members of Peninsula Pride Farms worked with Kewaunee County officials on a low pressure-drip manure irrigation rule that allows farmers to spread manure on their fields more times during the year instead of just spring and fall. By adding manure throughout the growing season, farmers can better fertilize their crops while reducing the amount of stored manure.
As one of Wisconsin’s leading industries – agriculture contributes $88.3 billion annually to the state’s economy – researchers across the state study ways to improve animal health, crop production and milk quality.
At the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the agriculture department teamed up with WinField to create the Winfield United Innovation Center, a center dedicated to researching different processes and tools to help farmers grow crops more sustainably. The new 55,000-square-foot facility opened last September and includes a spray application lab filled with state-of-the-art technology, including a wind tunnel, to evaluate the entire application process.
“Before we bring products to a farmer’s fields, we make sure they work in our fields first,” said Mike Vande Logt, executive vice president and chief operating officer of WinField United. “All of our products are developed with farmers top-of-mind.”
According to Vande Logt, testing in the lab and in both controlled and in-field environments will allow for more targeted applications of crop protection products, which benefit farmers and applicators.
UW-Madison is home to the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute for Food and Agriculture Sustainable Dairy Project. The program examines how dairy production systems affect climate change and what changes can be made to reduce greenhouse gases. The program aligns well with the dairy industry’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
Through its operation of measurement and monitoring sites, along with education programs, Becky Larson, UW-Extension team lead, said the project serves as a resource for farmers, providing information about how different practices
affect the environment.