Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance members – (from left) Tadd Meier, Jim Winn and Jim DiGangi  – appreciate the organization’s efforts in educating producer members. LASA was founded in 2017.
Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance members – (from left) Tadd Meier, Jim Winn and Jim DiGangi – appreciate the organization’s efforts in educating producer members. LASA was founded in 2017. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    SOUTH WAYNE, Wis. – With the goal of creating a community-wide effort and showing the community the commitment area farmers have to caring for the land and natural resources in Lafayette County, Wis., a group of producers created the Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance in 2017.
    “I’d been watching what the Yahara and Peninsula watershed groups were doing, and it seemed like a good idea to get farmers together to form a group in this region of the state,” said Jim Winn, one of the founding members and current president of LASA. “I’ve had the privilege of serving on the boards for Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, and have had the opportunity to learn what those groups were doing in their respective areas.”
    Winn is a partner in and operates Cottonwood Dairy, a 1,800-cow dairy near South Wayne, Wis. Cottonwood Dairy is located within the watershed that encompasses the East Pecatonica River.
    When Winn decided a regional conservation group was needed in his area, he called on a group of producers he thought would be interested in developing the project, and a meeting was set with area farmers invited to attend.
    “When we first started the group, clean water and the environment were on everyone’s minds, but in reality, we learned that education was our No. 1 priority,” Winn said. “Educating farmers of developments in conservation farming methods and educating the public about what we are doing are both important.”
    From the first meetings held in 2017, LASA has grown to 24 members and has over 40,000 acres of farm land and over 14,000 head of livestock enrolled.
    “It’s a very unique set of members,” Winn said. “It’s not just dairy, it’s not just big herds. We really encompass all areas of agriculture.”
    Members in the organization pay a flat fee of $250 per farm, regardless of farm size, to help fund the educational programing the group provides.  
    “We’ve had great support from the local community and some state and national groups as well,” Winn said. “The Nature Conservancy and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection have both been great to work with in developing our programming and ideas.”    
    While the activities of LASA are directed by a board of eight members, Winn encourages all LASA members to attend board meetings.
    “We learn a lot from each other just discussing things at the board meetings,” Winn said. “We’re really a cohesive group, and a lot of collaboration and ideas come from those meetings.”
    Jim DiGangi was one of the dairy farmers Winn first called upon when the idea for LASA struck. DiGangi is on the LASA board of directors, and owns and operates Darlington Ridge Farms, a 2,500-cow dairy farm near Darlington, Wis.
    “That’s the strength and value of the group,” DiGangi said. “I think it’s important for farmers to come to the meetings and be able to be part of the collaborative process. Stewardship is a long-term investment for those of us involved in the group.”
    In addition to the board meetings, the group has hosted field days and demonstrations for members to attend in-the-field training and sharing, as well as holding a yearly conference for more learning opportunities.
    Field day topics have included things like reducing field run-off, field-edge run-off, manure application and no-till practices. Field days are being planned again for this year and will be held in August.
    “The horsepower of the information that we have available to share is really amazing,” DiGangi said.
    Tadd Meier joined LASA because of the real-world data and information available. Meier milks 120 cows in South Wayne, Wis.
    “I’m really interested in learning more about developing strip-tilling on my farm,” Meier said.
    He is also interested in working with cover crops.
    “Being able to use the information from this group to make management decisions has really benefited me,” Meier said.
    In addition to holding educational events for farmers, LASA members are required to share information regarding conservation practices used on their farms with the group.
    In 2018, LASA members participated in a survey of 14 conservational practices including cover crops, no-till, reduced tillage and nutrient stewardship. Based on estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture Conservation Effects Assessment project, LASA members documented an estimated reduction of 42,648 pounds of phosphorous and 13,285 pounds of nitrogen because of the conservation practices they have employed.
     Looking to continue to grow the successes of their group as a whole and of their members individually, Winn said the goals for LASA for the upcoming  years include continuing to grow and increase overall membership.
    “Farming is always changing and evolving,” Winn said.
    Winn said he would like to see educational programming for this year help grow the usage of cover crops among LASA members.
    LASA has a cost-sharing program that aided their members in developing cover crops last year. This year, the cost-share program is being expanded to also include development of no-till and limited tillage practices, plus 4R nutrient stewardship which consists of split fertilizer applications, precision soil sampling, plant tissue sampling and nutrient management planning.  
    “We have to look at the bigger picture and remember that the soil is a living organism,” DiGangi said. “It’s like tying all the pieces together, taking all the concepts and making them work together. It all leads to better soil health.”