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E&L Harrison Enterprises Joins Discovery Farms Program

E&L Harrison Enterprises is the newest farm to join the statewide Discovery Farms program. A 4,000-hog finishing operation, E&L Harrison Enterprises is owned and operated by Lynn and Pat Harrison and located near Elk Mound, northwest of Eau Claire.

Discovery Farms, the foundation of the Wisconsin Ag Stewardship Initiative, is a producer-driven initiative working to assure a healthy environment and a healthy farm economy through real-world application of environmental research. Discovery Farms is an innovative research effort made possible through cooperation by UW-Extension, the UW-System and the UW-Madison”s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Along with Discovery Farms, WASI is comprised of the Pioneer Farm at UW-Platteville and component research projects in the UW System.

Last spring Discovery Farms solicited applications from producers across the state and received more than 30 applications covering the broad range of enterprises encountered in Wisconsin agriculture. Farms are selected to become Discovery Farms based on opportunities for research presented by the farm”s geographic location and management practices, suitability of the site for monitoring, level of anticipated cooperation by the farm owner, research funding availability and other factors.

The Harrisons” interest in Discovery Farms began when Wisconsin Pork Producers Association started their environmental assurance program. “I got thinking more about environmental issues in farming and got involved in the regulatory process,” Lynn Harrison says. “We need to have facts and scientific research behind the regulations,” which is the idea Discovery Farms is founded on. “Farmers need to be able to live with the regulations and protect the environment, but they still need to make a living. This program should help make a difference in environmental regulations, but someone has to take the initiative and do something.”

Discovery Farms looks at farming operations representative of their industry and evaluates what impact the operation is having on the environment before any management changes are made or suggested, so the effectiveness of those changes can be measured. Then Discovery Farms will evaluate suggested best management practices with the expectation of eventually sharing with producers a list of BMPs that are effective and will actually be profitable, a list of effective BMPs that will be expensive to implement, and a list of BMPs that are not effective.

As the Discovery Farms program progresses it will positively effect the regulatory process, helping create more effective regulations that have farm economics, as well as the environment in mind. Core Discovery Farms will be involved an anticipated 5 to 7 years, and receive $5,000 annual stipends. Core Discovery Farms are invited into the program as funding allows.

Along with their hog operation, the Harrisons run about 900 acres of corn and soybeans and have been practicing 100 percent no-till cropping methods for eight years. They have 320 irrigated acres and about 250 acres of highly erodible land, which is farmed in contour no-till strips. The Harrisons have been injecting all their manure since 1998.

The Harrison family has been raising hogs since 1913, when Lynn”s grandfather moved to the area. Until spring 1998 their operation was farrow-to-finish. “We were farrowing six times a year in outside lots and averaging 16 to 17 piglets per sow. Farrow-to-finish operations in total confinement were averaging 20-plus piglets per sow. We weren”t competitive any more,” Lynn says. “We had to either build a big sow set-up or change our operation.”

Lynn says they had been asked to join a few sow co-ops, but none had come to fruition, so they decided to become a finishing operation and started buying feeder pigs and put up total confinement finishing barns. The Harrisons buy their feeder pigs under contract from Big Gain Feed Company, Mankato, Minn., and have been with them for three years. The fat hogs are also sold back to and marketed through Big Gain under contract. Buying and selling hogs in a network such as this, the hogs all have similar genetics, something Lynn appreciates. “You get to know the quirks of these hogs.”

The Harrisons” property is located near and around the Muddy Creek State Wildlife Area and Old Elk Lake, a unique and somewhat rare shallow prairie pothole lake. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would like to expand that state wildlife area and buy up land around Old Elk Lake to protect it as a wildlife sanctuary. There is significant development pressure from nearby Eau Claire and Menomonie to subdivide the area, as well. The Harrisons didn”t want their farm to end up as a subdivision, so they sold development rights on 350 acres to the DNR and sold them 77 acres outright, which adjoin the lake.

“It”s a philosophical thing – we could have gotten a lot more subdividing, but now half of that lake shore will never be developed,” Lynn says. Selling the development rights allows the Harrisons to continue farming that piece of land, using accepted best management practices to protect the environment.

Discovery Farms will be working with E&L Harrison Enterprises to research odor issues – a common challenge among hog operations and animal agriculture in general. Discovery Farms will also be working on issues farmers face using no-till versus conventional tillage practices, residue management, manure incorporation, phosphorous indexing, nutrient crediting and yield insurance, as well as groundwater issues. Research opportunities also exist in adjusting hog diets to reduce nutrient levels in the manure, as the Harrisons mix and grind all their own feed.

The Harrisons are active with Wisconsin Pork Producers Association and the National Pork Producers Association. Lynn served on the state board for six years, acting as president for one year. Currently Lynn is serving on the National Pork Board environmental research committee. Both Lynn and Pat help manage WPPA”s Pork Schoppe stand at Wisconsin State Fair. Lynn also serves on U.S. Rep. Ron Kind”s agricultural advisory committee.

WPPA has been extremely supportive of Discovery Farms and this type of producer-driven on-farm research. The Harrisons learned about and applied to the Discovery Farms program after information appeared in the WPPA newsletter and the program was discussed at a board meeting. “Discovery Farms is going to be one of the best tools available to producers for facilitating on-farm research,” says Keri Retallick, executive vice president of WPPA. “We need programs like this so future rules and regulations are based on sound science, rather than emotion. Farmers want to protect the environment, but we need regulations that are economically feasible, too.

“WPPA feels that because Discovery Farms utilizes a collaboration of resources – working in partnership with state agencies, the UW System and Extension, as well as producers, it offers greater credibility in its research findings,” Retallick says.

Additional Discovery Farms will be announced in the coming months. For more information about this or other Discovery Farms research projects contact the Discovery Farms office in Pigeon Falls, at (715) 983-5668.