A Strong Partnership Demonstrates Good Conservation
Brothers Mark and Joe Van Asten pay it forward with the knowledge and practices gathered from a long-time partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and receive well-deserved congressional accolades as demonstration farm ‘ambassadors’ for Wisconsin.
In 1995, Neighborhood Dairy was founded by brothers Mark and Joe Van Asten, along with neighbors Jerry Evers and Vernon Newhouse. Today, the Van Asten brothers crop around 1,300 acres and have expanded their dairy operation to 1,160 cows. With the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Neighborhood Dairy has adopted a variety of conservation practices focused on nutrient management, water quality, and soil health.
Neighborhood Dairy has a long history of implementing conservation practices with assistance from NRCS, dating back to 1998. “We have been working with NRCS since about the time Neighborhood Dairy was founded,” said Mark Van Asten, referring to their first collaboration with NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), to implement nutrient and pest management practices. Since that initial project, Neighborhood Dairy has received EQIP assistance from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) for practices ranging from improving nutrient management to manure handling with the addition of two waste separation facilities. On their cropland, they have established several acres of filter strips, cover crops, and no-till fields with support from EQIP funds provided through GLRI. They also changed manure application methods and found success using a low-disturbance manure tool bar that injects liquid manure 4–5 inches into the soil (rather than surface application), through crop residue and green cover crops.
One of the most recent projects Neighborhood Dairy has been involved with is the installation of an open channel two stage ditch. The existing ditch would historically flood into adjacent agricultural fields creating sedimentation build up issues and soil nutrient loss. The two-stage ditch design would ideally double the capacity of the current ditch while mimicking the positive impact of a natural floodplain. The two stage system reduces sediment and nutrient loading, promotes proper drainage, and greatly reduces the potential for dredging in the future. The project was a collaboration between NRCS, Outagamie County Land and Water Department, and NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District and utilized GLRI Nearshore Health funding.
Interested in sharing their experiences, both Mark and Joe Van Asten are active members of the GLRI-funded Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network and hosted an on-farm field day to demonstrate the use of low-disturbance manure application equipment.
The Fox Demo Farms Network highlighted Neighborhood Dairy in 2021 as the Clean Water Pledge ‘farmer spotlight,’ and in 2022 for Planting Green—planting directly into live cover crops. “Neighborhood Dairy is well deserving of any recognition they receive. They have worked with us (NRCS) for years and their farm provides an excellent example of successful implementation of conservation practices,” said Lynn Szulczewski, NRCS District Conservationist for Outagamie County. Following these spotlights, Congressman Mike Gallagher introduced a bipartisan resolution, alongside Congressman Ron Kind, highlighting the innovation of Wisconsin demonstration farmers. The resolution was written to acknowledge and promote “the role of demonstration farm networks in expanding the adoption of conservation farming practices that improve the health of watersheds and agricultural lands.”
Neighborhood Dairy plans to continue utilizing NRCS conservation practices and promoting these practices with Fox Demo Farms and NEW Water’s NEW Watershed Program to improve water quality in the Lower Fox watershed.