Six Waupaca County farms were among the first 16 statewide to be selected for the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program.
The program’s goal is to protect working agricultural land from commercial and residential development by creating permanent conservation easements. The owners still retain the title to their land, but the easements restrict the land’s use to agricultural.
Recently, DATCP policy initiatives advisor Vicki Elkin and Lisa Schultz, a planning and information specialist with the department, visited the six farms in Waupaca County that were selected from the 36 first-round applications.
All have made significant investments in their operation, have a progressive management style and are committed to protecting their farmland for future generations. They’ve also benefitted from a strong partnership with Waupaca County.
The Waupaca County farms, totaling 3,500 acres, include Turners Fresh Market west of Waupaca, the Brooks and Bartels farms in the town of Lind, Sandy-Valley Farms near Scandinavia, and dairy farms owned by Doug and Mary Behnke, and Don and Diane Konrad in the town of Bear Creek.
Seven people are employed in the Bartels’ dairy farm operation, including Scott and his wife, Stacey, Scott’s brother Steve and four other full-time employees.
Together they milk approximately 300 Holstein dairy cows. They plan to double their herd size to 600 cows by growing internally over the next three to four years to allow Steve’s son-in-law to join their operation.
Bartels’ high-quality milk is processed locally just a few miles from their farm at Star Dairy in Weyauwega. They also market approximately 10,000 bushels of wheat each year through a local co-op elevator and hire custom operators each year to chop 300-plus acres of corn silage and empty their 2 million gallon manure pit.
Over the past 15 years, Bartels have made significant investments to their farm, including a 200-cow freestall barn, double-8 parlor and a 100-head heifer barn.
Homesteaded in 1855, Brooks Farms may be the oldest continuously run family farm in Waupaca County. With nearly 1,500 acres – 1,200 tillable and much of it contiguous – this is one of the largest and best known farming operations in the area. The Brooks often work with the Waupaca FFA to host Farm Fest, an annual community event that gives young children and their parents an opportunity to visit and experience firsthand a modern dairy farm.
Ten people are employed by Brooks Farms including Ron and his wife, Terri, three daughters, as well as Ron’s father, Dodge. The farm also provides jobs for three more full-time employees and one part-time employee.
Together they care for more than 400 head of high-producing Holstein cattle. The farm also leases 150 acres of cropland and contracts up to 100,000 bushels of corn and 10,000 bushels of wheat each year with the local co-op elevator. A custom operator bales wheat straw and some dry hay.
Doug and Mary Behnke are the third generation to run this family dairy farm that was established in 1905. Their herd today includes nearly 250 cows and 220 replacement heifers, plus approximately 40 dairy steers that are sold each year.
The Behnke farm currently employs four family members – Doug and Mary full time and two daughters part time – plus three additional full-time and four part-time employees.
The farm covers over 650 acres of mostly prime soil and another 220 acres are rented from three other landowners in the town. A commodity broker helps contract milk, grain and feed for the farm, and two custom operators combine grain and chop forage crops.
In the late 1950s, the Behnke farm was one of the first Wisconsin dairy farms to use a milking parlor and freestall housing for their dairy herd. After taking over the farm in the early 1980s, Doug and Mary replaced the original parlor with a state-of-the art rotary milking parlor, one of the first in Wisconsin.
Since 1997, Doug and Mary have invested almost $1.5 million into this farm, starting with a new 180-cow freestall barn and gravity flow manure transfer system and storage pit.
Established in 1976, the Don and Diane Konrad farm covers over 521 acres of mostly prime soil – 450 tillable – another 120 acres is leased from three other neighboring landowners.
In 2008, the Konrads began renting out their 216-cow freestall dairy barn and double-16 swing milking parlor to another local family who needed to expand to bring their son into the operation.
The Konrads still farm the 450 acres of cropland selling forage and some grain to their renters. They also raise replacement heifers for sale to other local dairy farms or through Equity Livestock and the Farmers Livestock Exchange.
Don and Diane also have one part-time employee, and two seasonal employees during planting and harvest. They also use a custom operator to combine and haul more than 50,000 bushels of grain they grow each year.
In 1998, the Konrads invested over $500,000 to expand and upgrade their dairy facilities, including a 216-cow freestall dairy barn with manure storage. They’ve also converted the old dairy barn into a modern swing-type parlor with holding area and additional freestalls. A concrete bunker silo was also built to store forage for the expanded dairy herd.
Sandy-Valley Farms covers more than 900 acres of farmland. In addition to milk production, the farm is recognized as one of the top Holstein breeders in the country, selling animals to local farmers, as well as contracting with top dairy genetic companies around the world.
Each year, more than 100 foreign visitors tour the farm, often affiliated with World Dairy Expo.
Along with 10 family members – four full time and six part time – the farm also has four other full-time employees. Sandy-Valley works with several local custom operators to haul manure, harvest forages and apply pesticides. The farm also has rental agreements with three neighboring landowners and irrigates more than 500 acres of their own cropland.
The Bauers also have built six state-of-the-art heifer and bull barns, a 450-cow freestall barn, a 3 million gallon concrete manure transfer and storage system, and a double-12 milking parlor that features direct loading of milk into tanker trucks.
Turners Fresh Market farm covers 400 acres of irrigated cropland and is a second-generation farm that began transitioning from dairy into fresh market vegetables in 1963.
Ross Turner purchased the farm from his parents in 1976, focusing exclusively on fresh market vegetables and berries, and eventually expanded into wholesale as well as direct marketing.
In 1994, Turner converted a roadside vegetable stand into a full-fledge farm market by remodeling an old barn into a retail sales store and paving the parking lot. In 1998, a packing shed and storage cooler were added, $40,000, for wholesaling fresh-picked sweet corn.
Each year Turners grows and sells fresh fruit, vegetables and berries to thousands of local and regional residents, as well as the many tourists from Wisconsin and beyond. Primary crops include sweet corn, snap beans used as a legume in rotation with the sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash and pumpkins.
Turners employs up to 40 people each year during the growing season, primarily high school and college students, as well as a number of local retirees.