Rick and Kimberly Gehrke

There’s one topic that’s always on a farmer’s mind: water. When is it going to rain? Are the crops getting enough to thrive? For a farmer like Rick Gehrke, whose farm is less than a mile from the Fox River and near Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, he’s thinking about it from a much broader perspective, too, and how his farming decisions not only impact water on his farm but also downstream.

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Meet the farmer

Rick and his family farm near Omro where they raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Rick’s mindset of investing in farm practices that improve soil health and water quality long term is apparent in everything he does. An avid learner and early adopter of new ideas, he’s always thinking about how he can farm more sustainably for his family today and tomorrow.

For Rick, applying fertilizer to his crops is never a short-sighted decision. And thanks to precision tech, he can apply fertilizer only in areas of the field where it’s needed instead of a broad application over the entire field. By following the “3 R’s rule” – right amount, right time, right place – he gives the growing crop the nutrition it needs to reach its full yield potential while preventing fertilizer nutrients like nitrogen from getting into waterways.

Healthy soils mean better water quality. Soil that is healthy and rich in black organic matter holds more water, keeping that water available for the growing corn instead of washing away. This is especially important because changing weather patterns have meant fewer rainfalls with more intensity and larger amounts of rain in a shorter time.

To improve soil health every year, Rick plants cover crops – crops that are not harvested, but that grow over winter. These crops keep soil in place and add important nutrients back to the soil, making it healthier for the next growing year.

Corn farmers like Rick keep water clean by using no-till farming. No-till means planting directly into the plant material left over from last year’s crop. By doing this Rick reduces soil erosion and keeps soil in place and out of creeks, streams and rivers.

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Rick is one of many family farmers working to improve his farm for his own family, and yours. Follow along as we explore other Wisconsin corn farmers’ stories.