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Mark Petersen, Petersen Dairy Farm, Appleton, WI

Overseeing the dairy with his brother, Steve, and father, Lawrence, Mark Petersen is proud to continue the legacy of Petersen Dairy Farm, which has been managed by family since 1934. The city of Appleton and its suburbs have grown significantly in recent years, prompting the Petersens to re-evaluate some aspects of their farming operation. With the desire to show Appleton, Wisconsin, that cows can be good neighbors, sustainability and environmental responsibility have taken center stage at Petersen Dairy Farm.

When the city of Appleton decided to build a high school less than half a mile from their 50-cow dairy, the Petersen family decided to roll out the welcome mat for their new neighbors. Knowing the growing neighborhood meant more people would be closer to the dairy than ever before, the Petersens began exploring new ways to manage their farm. Most notably, how could they improve their relationship with the local community, protect water quality and best manage the dairy’s manure and associated odors?

Composting and zone tilling emerged as key solutions. Their herd has been bedded exclusively with recycled, shredded newspaper purchased from community organizations since 1988; manure from dairy has been composted with that newspaper since 1995; and new methods of tilling have reduced soil loss while improving the cropping operation. Composting also keeps tractors and manure spreaders off the road and stabilizes crop nutrients.

Best Practices

Manure Management System

The Petersens recognized the potential benefits of composting and began the process in 1995. They found that composting helped to dramatically reduce odors, while keeping tractors, manure spreaders and mud off local roads. Nutrients are stabilized and manure is ultimately turned into a value-added product for the farm and its neighbors, with more than 99 percent of the dairy’s manure being used by local gardeners and homeowners. As part of their commitment to the composting process, the Petersens engaged the University of Wisconsin Extension to conduct research on their compost site rotation on their corn fields. This ongoing analysis helps minimize the potential ground water impacts.

Zone Till Conversion

The Petersens implemented a zone tilling method, a planting process that reduces the amount of soil that must be tilled. This has helped to reduce soil loss while improving the overall cropping operation. The Petersens hoped to reduce fuel use and labor needed to produce dairy feed without impacting profitability. The conversion to zone tillage benefits the environment by leaving soil residue from the previous harvest on the field while clearing that zone for planting the new crop. This residue helps boost soil health, while also keeping soil in place during spring storms and snowmelts, thereby improving the health of local waterways.

Small Steps Add Up

These efforts at Petersen Dairy Farm, when combined with responsible dairy producers across the country, can really add up to create a more sustainable future for communities, business and the planet.

WWF and the Innovation Center for US Dairy are working together with dairy producers to share science-based practices and encourage stewards like the Petersens to develop and adopt sustainability practices in their operations.

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