New conservation group formed in western Marathon County
By Lauren Nichols
STRATFORD — In recent years, farmer-led watershed groups like Yahara Pride Farms in Madison and Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network in Green Bay have sprung up across the Midwest. These farmer-led groups promote environmentally beneficial farming practices in an effort to reduce the effect that agriculture has on surface waters.
Along this same vein, a new group has formed in Marathon County. The Eau Pleine Partnership for Integrated Conservation (EPPIC) is an up-and-coming community partnership based in western Marathon County. Unlike Yahara Pride and Fox Demo Farms, EPPIC is not only composed of farmers, but also includes a variety of stakeholders with different perspectives on soil and water issues, including local agronomists and conservation farmers. This includes: Big Eau Pleine Citizens Organization
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program, Marathon County Conservation, Planning, & Zoning (CPZ) Department, Marathon County Farm Bureau, Marathon County Farmers Union, Marshfield Agricultural Research Station, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever, River Alliance of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin–Extension, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company.
In the fall of 2017, a meeting was planned by Marathon County CPZ staff to join these different stakeholders around the same table to discuss our soil and water resource concerns in western Marathon County. This meeting turned into monthly gatherings, which resulted in the formation of EPPIC.
The Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, since its construction in 1937, has suffered from poor water quality due to low oxygen and high phosphorus concentrations, a nutrient commonly used in fertilizer. Surrounding lakes and rivers in the area face similar situations.
During rain events, eroded soil, phosphorus, chemicals, and other nutrients are carried away from lawns, fields, and roads into our rivers and lakes. Conservation practices such as reduced tillage, cover crops, and managed grazing can be utilized by farmers to reduce runoff and benefit their soils. Landowners can also reduce harmful runoff from their properties by minimizing the use of chemicals and fertilizers and diverting storm water runoff to a rain garden, rain barrel, or infiltration area.
EPPIC recognizes that these practices are needed on a community-wide level in order to create a more environmentally resilient community that has a successful agricultural industry, as well as healthy natural resources. EPPIC’s goals include promoting these beneficial practices to all landowners, whether they are farmers, shore land owners, or suburban homeowners.
Over the past couple of months, EPPIC has organized three events that have laid the foundation for adopting conservation practices. In July, people on all sides of the spectrum — farmers, citizen water monitors, Big Eau Pleine Citizens Organization members, Department of Natural Resources folks, and others — talked about Marathon County’s water quality issues while enjoying a boat cruise around the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir. In August, EPPIC hosted an event called Common Ground, which was an evening of conversation and collaboration between stakeholders who have never been around the same table. Farm tours, a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) rainfall simulation, and speakers were featured throughout the evening.
Moving into the future, EPPIC plans to continue its efforts by creating a strong community-wide farmer partnership that includes hosting field days and peer learning groups, as well as attending and planning local events.
Visit the EPPIC Facebook page to learn about upcoming events and to become a part of the movement.
For questions, please contact Lauren Nichols, EPPIC coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.