When Luther West acquired his 160-acre homestead in 1855, he was required to clear at least five acres and build a claim shanty. However, in less than three years, he cleared nearly 80 acres and built a large home on what is now Brooks Farms. Luther’s spirit of going above and beyond what is required remains a driving force for Ron Brooks and his daughters Alyssa, Kelsey, Zoey and Sydney, who each strive to conserve, improve and in some cases restore the same land Luther tamed over 160 years ago.
Brooks Farms is a 1,600-acre, vertically integrated dairy and crop farm in Waupaca. Expanding the dairy to 650 cows allows the Brooks family to better care for their animals and take advantage of economy of scale, giving them the ability to invest in manure separation and a wastewater treatment plant.
Depending on the year and weather conditions, 70-80 percent of their cropland is not tilled. The cropland undergoes a 10-year crop rotation between oats, alfalfa, corn, soybeans and wheat. Throughout the 10-year rotation, the fields are only tilled twice with heavy consideration of slope and erosion potential. Earthworms thrive in their reduced tillage fields, indicating a healthy soil biosphere and creating channels to allow water infiltration.
The family works with agronomists to develop 2.5-acre grid sections across their land. The small grid section size allows for fine tuning how much fertilizer to apply to virtually every square foot of land. This provides a precise mechanism for fertilizer and seed inputs.
The Brooks family has dedicated significant time, money and effort towards a large prairie and pollinator project. The project began with invasive plant removal and a massive prairie burn. In the spring of 2016, the Brooks family planted an impressively diverse seed mix, featuring 11 native grass species and more than 30 different forbs and legumes. The site will provide significant cover for ground-nesting birds and pollinator habitat.
The Brooks family rarely turns down an opportunity to reach out to the community to educate others about conservation and stewardship. Ron and his daughters attend career days at high schools and middle schools to encourage children to consider a career in agriculture. Zoey also served as Wisconsin’s “Alice in Dairyland”, dedicating a year to promoting dairy and agriculture to thousands of students and adults in Wisconsin and beyond.
“The success of the farm has come from the passion that Ron exudes for the symbiotic relationship between his dairy-crop operation and the land. Ron has said many times, ‘leave a legacy, not a liability’. He truly believes that saying, and lives by it,” said James Dietzler of Pheasants Forever.