When visitors arrive at Schoepp Farms in West Point township in Columbia County, they are instantly struck by the picturesque view of Lake Wisconsin, which is located just adjacent to and downslope of the third-generation farm. However, the view is not the only impressive thing to be found at the 600+ acre operation. For decades, Ron, Dave, and Nancy Schoepp have continued to look for ways to implement and promote conservation practices and soil health principles on their farm. That dedication earned them recognition from WI Land+Water as the 2023 Conservation Farm Family of the Year.
Schoepp Farms is a well-diversified grazing and cash grain operation that grows over 500 acres of corn, soybeans, winter wheat, and alfalfa, as well as 110 acres of grass pastures that are dedicated to raising 200 dairy heifers, 30-50 dry cows, and 15 grass-fed beef. The Schoepps’ conservation ethic goes back for decades, beginning with Dave and Nancy’s conservation plan in the 1980s, followed by their enrollment in the Farmland Preservation Program in 1988. Ron traces his father Dave’s conservation ethic back even further to the 1960s, noting that the plow was always picked up and sprayers turned off when going through waterways. The family added no-tilling in 1991 and converted to all no-till by 1995. In 1997, they frost-seeded red clover into a winter wheat field and Ron introduced rotational grazing to their operation.
Their 30-plus years of no-tilling crops and rotational grazing has made soil erosion almost nonexistent on their operation. Water infiltration and retention have been significantly improved, while crop residue and organic matter increases act like a sponge and enable the farm to withstand droughts and extreme rains with minimal yield losses. These grazing practices allow for portions of the pasture to remain untouched annually until mid-July, providing crucial space for grassland birds to nest. The 60-day grazing rotation also allows native plants to continuously bloom and provide habitat for pollinating insects.
But the Schoepps’ work doesn’t stop with the implementation of these practices, and conservation education and demonstration have been equally as important to the family. They have hosted numerous events, research studies, field days, and farm tours to promote and educate others on the importance of conservation in farming.
“It is truly difficult to emphasize everything that the Schoepps have done to protect land, water, and wildlife integrity for no other reason than genuinely caring about doing so,” said Todd Rietmann, Land & Water Resource Management Senior Specialist for Columbia County. The Schoepps were nominated for the award by the Columbia County Land and Water Conservation Department. “They have generously given countless hours and donated their own money towards hastening conservation-related public outreach events. Despite everything that they are already doing and the steps they take each and every day for land and water resources, they are always asking questions and wondering how they can do more to improve their own land and to educate others,” added Rietmann.
As part of those educational efforts, Ron has become an active leader in the community, working closely with the Sauk Soil and Water Improvement Group (SSWIG) and the Lake Wisconsin Farmer Led Watershed Council. He has worked with both groups to host educational events, including Conservation Day by the Lake aimed at farmers in the area and Conservation Night by the Lake aimed at showcasing farming practices to local lakeshore homeowners.
As recipients of the award, the Schoepps will also host the state’s next Conservation Observance Day on June 23, 2023. The free public event will showcase the family’s conservation practices, as well as their impact on the community and watershed. During the daylong event, visitors will have the opportunity to stop at various demonstration stations around the farm, including a rainfall simulator, soil pit, cover crop field, and barnyard.
But for Ron, the event is also an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the support of the very community that these conservation practices benefit. “This isn’t just about one person—the name of the award is the ‘Farm Family’ and I couldn’t do this without my family, friends, and community who support this work,” said Ron Schoepp. “Without their support—and without the watershed groups and collaborators, agency partners, and nonprofit partners—none of this would be possible.”
A full schedule and additional event details will be released soon, and available at www.co.columbia.wi.us/columbiacounty/lwcd. Interested attendees can RSVP to Columbia County Land and Water Conservation Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 742-9670.
Download a photo of the Schoepp Family, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wisconsinlandwater/sets/72177720306880373/
The Conservation Farm Family of the Year Award is given by WI Land+Water annually to recognize the outstanding achievements of Wisconsin landowners that incorporate conservation practices into their operation for the betterment of their lands, waters, and communities. Recipients are awarded at WI Land+Water’s annual conference and serve as the hosts for that year’s Conservation Observance Day, a free event made possible by the generous support of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The event is open to the public and showcases innovative conservation practices. To learn more, visit: wisconsinlandwater.org/conservation/conservation-observance-day.