Farmers and other contributors to the excessive nutrient and pollution runoff impacting Dane County lakes and waterways could receive financial incentives or subsidies to implement conservation methods under a set of recommendations from a task force to the County Board.
The county convened the Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force last year to come up with recommendations on how the county can address runoff, including phosphorus, which was identified as a key contributor to the algae blooms and other plant growths that choke the lake and its ecosystems.
The recommendations of the task force, which includes board members, lake advocates, farmers and scientists, are condensed into eight overall objectives:
- Support and encourage conservation efforts.
- Enforce regulations to use nutrients more effectively.
- Improve manure management and storage.
- Improve soil and water quality through a database of management plans.
- Support and evaluate the Yahara CLEAN (Capital Lakes Environmental Assessment and Needs) Strategic Action Plan.
- Develop programs that aid in agricultural land preservation.
- Expand conservation through cost-share programs.
- Develop large-scale watershed analyses.
The recommendations primarily affect farmers and farmland, which accounts for about two-thirds of nutrient runoff into the waterways, according to the Yahara CLEAN plan, but entities such as the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District are also named as targets of the recommendations as waste water and storm water are also factors.
The recommendations would either just encourage fertilizer management plans or mandate farms submit the plans to a county database. Task force chairwoman Sup. Mary Kolar, 1st District, said most large-scale farms already use such plans and those that don’t would likely benefit long-term.
“It will make more economic sense for farmers to (use management plans and) know how much fertilizer to put down and know that it’s staying where they put it and it’s not running into the waterways,” Kolar said.
By compiling a database, the county would be able to analyze successes and improvements in nutrient management and by extension runoff levels, task force member and part-time farmer David Fahey said.
Jamie Derr, a farmer and member of the task force, said setting up management plans and other runoff reduction methods can be costly for farmers — many of whom, he said, face economic hardship — and the difficulty in implementing the recommendations will be making sure farms will still be profitable while working to follow best practices.
“It’s about making sure the timeline to do all this” doesn’t overburden farmers, Derr said. “Producers want to do these things, but it’s whether they can afford to do these things.”
A timeline for compliance with the recommendations was not set by the task force, and the recommendations also suggest the county would consider cost-sharing or subsidies for runoff reduction practices, such as planting buffer crops along ditches or planting cover crops following harvest.
The recommendations will not immediately impact county ordinances or policy, Kolar said, but will be used by the board members and various committees and departments in the county when making budget requests for next year and for future policy considerations.