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April 13, 2014

Farmers strive for sustainability

(Continued)

Another key point is that it is site-specific. What works for one farmer may not work for his neighbor. Adopting new agricultural practices are not always an easy. Farms have a wide range of soils, environmental conditions and available markets. Not every farm can grow corn and not every farmer wants to milk cows two or three times a day.

Developing a sustainable farm plan involves consideration of many factors; developing a long-term goal, a detailed financial plan, best practices for enhancing the environment and planning for prosperity. Often this is described as “holistic management,” considering the whole farm when planning rather than its individual parts. While holistic and sustainable agriculture is often associated with small farms and organic-farming practices, conventional farmers are also making progress in this arena.

We have a number of local dairy farmers who manage pasture and grazing to feed their herds during the summer. Even larger farmers are growing more and more of their own crops to avoid purchasing expensive grains from out of the region. Reduced tillage, improved crop genetics and careful manure applications have lowered inputs of fuel, fertilizer and pesticides while continuing to yield bountiful harvests. Agricultural research and education continues to look for new methods that will enhance the sustainability of our local farms.

One practice that has seen a lot of interest and a modest amount of farmer adoption is the use of small-grains cover crops for soil health and double cropping of small grains for forage production. Encouraged by the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the local Soil and Water Conservation District, more than 1,600 acres of crop land was seeded last fall to a winter cover crop to improve soil health, reduce nutrient losses and reduce erosion.

With support and input from specialists at Cornell University, Miner Institute, the Lake Champlain Basin Program and Cooperative Extension, more and more farmers are warming up to the idea of cover crops.

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