VernonReporter

Vernon County farm recognized by NRCS for conservation practices

Vernon County farmers Matt and Ashley Canter, and their family, were recently highlighted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service for their efforts to implement the next generation of conservation practices in collaboration with conservation agencies and organizations.

Background

Highland Farm became a reality when Matthew Canter and his wife, Ashley, relocated to western Wisconsin from Ohio. The panoramic view from the ridge-top land they purchased in 2014 includes the communities of Westby and Cashton, plus the Snowflake Ski Club Hill. The Canters started a sheep farm on the land and were eager to begin their farming career by learning from neighbors, personal study and first-hand experience. Matthew, Ashley, and their five children are all active participants in the farming operation. The land had a history of traditionally farmed corn and soybean fields that showed poor soil health with several gullies and erosion issues. As a ridgetop farmer, Matthew felt responsible for managing his land to minimize the loss of soil causing issues for landowners in the wake of Highland Farm’s runoff. In 2017, he developed an interest in dairy farming and retrofitted his barn, purchased a herd of cows and began the transition to a certified organic dairy operation.

Highland Farm is part of the Coon Creek Watershed, where the first erosion control demonstration project in the United States began through the collaboration of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Soil Conservation Service, known now as the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In 2021, the Coon Creek Community Watershed Council, Inc. (CCCWC) was formed, a grassroots, producer and community led organization involving farmers and producers, landowners and business owners and numerous others from the community, their name paying tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps by embedding the acronym CCC to remember those who came to the aid of the watershed community before. As terraces and remnants of a CCC water trough are still visible near Highland Farm, Matthew joined the CCCWC to be an active participant in addressing conservation education and planning for the area. 

Preserving the legacy of the land with consideration for the community through conservation practices, Highland Farm sets out to organically revitalize their ridgetop farming operation.

Highlights

In 2018, flood conditions strengthened Matthew’s desire to be a good steward of his land and a good neighbor. As he began transitioning his land into pastured acres, he was awarded an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract with NRCS in 2019 for a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. The farm was awarded a second EQIP contract in 2020, allowing more crop fields to be converted to pasture, which increased the forage quality and soil health. A farm access road, trails and walkways, fences, livestock pipeline and a watering facility were installed. Prescribed grazing introduced the Canters’ cows to a new pasture every 12 hours from mid-May to mid-November with 45 established paddocks that measured up to 10 inches of pasture growth even following the first frost of the season. 

John Zinn, former Soil Conservationist/Grazing Specialist with Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development Council and now-retired NRCS partner affiliate, enjoyed working with Matthew and shared that Matthew’s conservation efforts “have had the right responses for doing the right things to build organic matter, sequester carbon and create multiple environmental benefits with his land.”

Future Plans

Matthew is proud to have tripled the size of improved pasture on the farm, noting the quality-of-life improvements for both his animals and family. As a certified organic grass-fed dairy farm, new market incentives support the conservation efforts installed with the help of NRCS financial assistance programs.

New goals include addressing manure spreading issues by applying for an additional EQIP contract to build a pack barn where composted manure can be more easily managed. Matthew also has plans to apply for the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program to help him identify additional conservation practices applicable to his land while maintaining his existing operational practices. His overall goal is to “revitalize Highland Farm,” increasing its value for future generations.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program – Wisconsin

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers and non-industrial forest managers to address natural resource concerns.Learn More

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