R&G Miller & Sons Inc. operates an organic dairy in the Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois Drift Plain region. This area is characterized by gently sloping ground moraines, lake plains, out-wash plains, drumlin fields, end moraines, flood plains, swamps, and marshes with elevation ranges from 660 to 980 feet. Most of this major land resource area (MLRA) is in farm with than one-half of the area is cropland. Agricultural uses include the production of dairy cattle, other livestock, forage, hay, feed grains, sweet corn, snap beans, canning peas, soybeans, winter wheat, barley, and fruit. The dominant soil orders in this MLRA are Alfisols, Histosols, and Mollisols.
The overall mission of R&G Miller & Sons Inc. is to maintain their commitment to producing organic milk (see here). The first step in the Adaptation workbook process is to lay out management goals and objectives. For R & G Miller & Sons Inc. this is to continue to produce the highest quality organic milk without sacrificing the health or comfort of their herd. They also want to maintain or increase surplus yields of grain and hay for revenue and/or reserve stocks and maintain a diverse land-use that includes rotational grazed pasture and cropland.
Climate Change Impacts
According to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information and their Wisconsin State Climate Summary, projections for Wisconsin’s climate include:
- Average temps could increase 3.5-5°F by mid-century.
- Potential increase in number of days above 95°F with future heat waves to be more intense.
- Average number of days without precipitation to increase.
- Increased precipitation during winter and spring (less snowfall due to increased temps).
- Higher frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events.
- Frost-free season will be longer, thus less time for soils to be frozen.
Challenges and Opportunities
Climate change will produce both challenges and opportunities for this organic dairy, family farm. Some of the challenges include: Heavy rain and wet spring conditions making it more difficult to get into and work fields in spring; Ponding of water will make it harder to plant and will reduce yields, and hauling manure in spring/fall will prove challenging (hauling on wet soils can increase compaction); Wet spring conditions will also make it more difficult to get cows in and out of pastures; There will be a higher potential for more diseases with prolonged wet conditions and reduced productivity of plants, specifically orchard grass; and drought may decrease yields; grasses shut down and increase the need to feed with alternative (higher cost) sources of forage.
Opportunities are less numerous. However, crops and pastures for feed will benefit from longer growing seasons, if there is enough moisture.
The Adaptation Workbook was used to identify some potential adaptation actions for this project. Two approaches were identified: One is to reduce severity or extent of water-saturated soil and flood damage and adjust the timing or location of on-farm activities. The specific tactic would be planting some crops in the fall to be utilized as a forage or grain the following year depending on field conditions spring. The second approach is to better manage crops to cope with warmer and drier conditions by utilizing the specific tactic of reducing amount of tillage conducted on the farm.
(See step 4 full text pdf for additional details)
Throughout the workbook exercise it was clear that R & G Miller & Sons Inc. continually look for avenues to improve the land that provides for their organic dairy herd. Via their mission and vision, they can simultaneously consider how to mitigate their direct effects on the changing climate and adapt to the current/anticipated changes in climate to become a local leader in environmental stewardship (i.e. monitor and evaluate effectiveness of implemented tactics).