Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy—Measuring the environmental impact of a large farming system

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The UW-Discovery Farms worked with Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy to better understand how management practices can be used to minimize nutrient and sediment losses on the farm. 

Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy is one of Wisconsin's largest family-owned farms, maintaining and cropping a land base in Kewaunee County that will feed their dairy animals. Located within five miles of Lake Michigan and one mile from the Kewaunee River, the Pagel family has always employed best management practices to control soil erosion and reduce nutrient loss. So when the UW-Discovery Farms program chose their farm to study and document the impact of these practices on the local water quality, the Pagel family was enthusiastic.

With more than 4,000 dairy cows, the Pagel family understands and is committed to managing their farm's environmental impact.

UW-Discovery Farms develops on-farm and related research to determine the economic and environmental effects of agricultural practices on a diverse group of Wisconsin farms. Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy exemplifies a typical "confined" dairy operation, meaning animals are housed together in free-stall barns, and cropland is farmed in accordance with the number of animals the farm raises.

The five-year study by UW-Discovery Farms began in 2003. Researchers wanted to determine the quality of water coming off the agricultural fields and how cropping and management of the land affected sediment and nutrient loss. Monitoring sites were installed along grassed waterways close to the edges of fields.

Prior to the study, the Pagels already had erosion control practices in place, such as conservation tillage, grassed waterways, crop rotation, filter strips, and the use of a conservation plan designed by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

The research results provided information about when sediment and nutrient losses have a higher potential to occur. This information helps the Pagels—and all dairy farmers with similar farming methods and topography—make better management decisions in the future.

John and Kim Pagel, who purchased the farm in 1980, have always had their eyes on the future. Through the years, they have grown the operation to involve their children and grandchildren on the farm in various ways. They employ 100 people at their dairy and emphasize building strong connections with their community through educational tours. (Learn more about the Pagel Family Farm in the Farm Families section.)

For the Pagels, the study gave an added boost to the commitment they have made to the community since they began farming. "We will always be careful to monitor the farm's byproducts in an effort to benefit the community and provide a safer environment. It is important that we are not contributing pollutants to our rivers, streams, lakes or groundwater."

"We will always be careful to monitor the farm's byproducts in an effort to benefit the community and provide a safer environment…"
~John Pagel

The research opened up a dialogue. During UW-Discovery Farms' work, farm tours and field days were held to showcase the research being done. "These events were beneficial to members of the general public to better understand what is being done in modern agriculture to protect the environment while producing agricultural commodities," says Dennis Frame, director of the UW-Discovery Farms program.  

These events were also attended by conservation agency personnel and policy makers and fostered an open dialog about new challenges facing agricultural producers and the communities in which they live and work.

Visit the UW-Discovery Farms website for a complete summary of research done at Pagel's Ponderosa.