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Watershed Leaders Network, a project of Fishers & Farmers Partnership (FFP), is a peer-to-peer learning network for farmers and their watershed coordinators in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. During a Watershed Leaders Network workshop last year, farmer John Eron, from Mill Creek Watershed near Stevens Point, Wisc. asked FFP for help providing local data to his neighbors. He said, “We (farmers) want to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to learning about water quality measurements on and around our farms. We want to look at data and make changes in our farming practices if there are changes to make, instead of waiting to make changes after we’ve been told.”

In response to John’s request, Fishers & Farmers purchased a water quality monitoring system that measures temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and nitrates in local streams.

Farmers of Mill Creek Farmer-Led Council used that system to take measurements on and near farms this summer, to start new conversations and inform farm management decisions. At a field day hosted by the group on August 17, 2017 more than 50 farmers welcomed speaking guests from Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards (PACRS), Citizens Water Coalition of Wisconsin, Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network, and Fishers & Farmers Partnership. All involved are working to protect water quality, streams and fish, family farms, and small-town local economies.

Local data can also create friendly competition between farm operators. Dick Sloan, farmer and Lime Creek Watershed Council chair (northeast Iowa) told Watershed Leaders Network participants last year how anonymous data posted for members of his local group helped neighbors see a range of soil and nutrient loss in their area and how their own practices affect Lime Creek. Without pointing fingers, this started new conversations and gave growers a chance to re-evaluate their own decisions.

Fishers & Farmers Partnership’s YSI water quality monitoring system, rain simulator, and stream table are available to watershed groups for local monitoring and outreach. To use the monitoring system or outreach tools, contact FFP coordinator Heidi Keuler at 608-783-8417 or Heidi_Keuler@fws.gov.

Farmers from Mill Creek gather in John Eron’s barn to learn about different cover crops and programs available to them through Portage County, WI.

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