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Success Stories - Energy Crops and On-Farm Energy Production

Wisconsin Landowner Success Story
Bob Derr, Derr Farms
Marshall, Dane County, Wisconsin
October 26, 2007

Bob Derr runs the family's 400 acre cash grain farm near Marshall, Wisconsin, with an eye to saving energy and fuel at every possible step. When the Crawfish Watershed became eligible for the 2005 Conservation Security Program, Bob signed up and was accepted in Tier 2, moving quickly to Tier 3 the next year.

Conservation is a Derr family tradition. In the early 1940s, Alvin Derr, Bob's 102 year-old father, planted the first contour strip crops in Dane County. Terraces were installed in the early 1970s with technical assistance from the Soil Conservation Services local soil conservationist, Perlie Reed, who went on to become Chief of the agency in 1998. Bob was the first farm in Wisconsin to sign up for the Farmers Union Carbon Credit program last year. For them, it required nothing new, as they had been using no-till in a corn-soybean rotation for years. With the recent rush to plant more corn because of the high corn prices, Derr did not change their rotation as many did. "The corn-soybean rotation with no-till works great," says Bob. t reduces the nitrogen and chemicals needed.

Energy Crops and On-Farm Energy Production

Bob and his son Jamie enjoy experimenting with energy crops and producing their own alternative fuels on the farm. They grew a test plot of canola to produce canola oil for biodiesel, and are planning a sunflower test plot in the future. They also have a SVO (straight vegetable oil) conversion kit on the tractor to burn SVO in combination with diesel.

Terry Kelly, NRCS District Conservationist for Dane County, assisted Bob with the Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases-Carbon Management Evaluation Tool (COMET-VR). Comet-VR is a component of the Air Resource Management-CSP Enhancement, which Terry added to his CSP contract. The COMET-VR tool is a decision support tool for agricultural producers, land managers, soil scientists, and other agricultural interests. It provides a simple and reliable method of estimating soil carbon sequestration and the carbon footprint of every aspect of the farming operation. The Derr's also recycle all lubricants used on the farm

"The Derr's operation is an excellent example of whole farm planning, with more than the core four practices of no-till, nutrient and pest management, and conservation buffers,"says Kelly. "They have gone beyond with wetlands, wildlife habitat, energy conservation and energy production, even a small well-tended apple orchard."

Wetland habitat. To improve wildlife habitat, they have restored a small wetland which now provides hours of wildlife watching for the family. Bob also established a wildlife corridor, which helped the farm meet the wildlife requirements for Tier 3. They used an existing grass-backed terrace, and added on other 15 feet of seeding on the other side to make a 30 foot wide buffer.

"Tt really works," says Bob. "We have seen deer use it as a corridor, and so do pheasants." The buffer, of course, also provides water quality benefits, intercepting and slowing any runoff from the fields.

Bob is a current member of the Biodiesel Board and the Soybean Growers Association (SBA) and served as President for two terms with SBA. He has a life-long record of community activism for conservation issues.
  Bob Derr (left) and NRCS District Conservationist Terry Kelly. Bob Derr (left) and NRCS District Conservationist Terry Kelly.