As first-generation dairy farmers in Juniata County, my wife, Marie and I believe you have to control the good things in your environment. It’s about being good stewards of the land, within the economics of that stewardship.
I am grateful to have received the Dairying for Tomorrow award for environmental stewardship from the American Dairy Association Northeast.
There are countless other farmers in Pennsylvania who are equally deserving of recognition for what they’ve done for farm sustainability and being good stewards of the land and soil that is their livelihoods.
Farmers in the Commonwealth deserve every opportunity to improve soil health, make a profit, and take action to ensure soil and nutrients stay on the land instead of going into local waterways.
Pennsylvania faces a massive challenge in meeting its commitment of installing practices to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment polluting local rivers and streams, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay, by 2025.
I was one of five farmers to sit on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) Phase 3 committee. I know first-hand that for this Clean Water Blueprint to be successful, farmers will need to be successful in reducing nutrients and sediments that get into Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams.
A plan is only as good as its implementation, and for years Pennsylvania’s decision-makers have not invested enough in farm conservation efforts, particularly compared to other states in the region. Pennsylvania estimates that there’s an annual shortfall in implementing the new WIP of over $320 million. No doubt, if the Commonwealth had been investing more over the last decade, we’d be in a better financial position today. But it didn’t.
Those who put Pennsylvania’s Phase 3 WIP together remain committed to its success. I am too. Being in the Bay watershed has been a key motivator for us to make sure the farm is environmentally sustainable for future generations.
The property straddles the Schweyer Run and Lost Creek watersheds, tributaries to the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.
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We rent 400 acres on Red Sunset Farm near Mifflintown and are fortunate to have conservation-minded landowners.
Our dairy operation has 60 registered Holsteins and 70 replacement heifers.
We produce 100 acres of corn, 100 acres of soybeans, 70 acres of hay, plus acreage of small grains, sunflowers and buckwheat.
Our strategy for producing and protecting crops and soil includes contour strips, cover crops, grass waterways, diversions, no-till practices, and crop rotations. There are 15 acres of wildlife habitat and 30 honey bee colonies as pollinators.
Paddocks are in place to manage rotational grazing for the dairy cows.
A 700,000-gallon manure pit, receives manure pumped from barn and there is a leak detection system. Manure is managed by a stacking pad with concrete floor and three sides to control runoff.
Rainwater from the barnyard is directed away from animal exercise areas using downspouts and gutters. Barn spouting keeps water clean.
Very few entities, farmers like myself included, can reach their pollution goal single-handedly.
What we are doing at Red Sunset Farm wouldn’t be possible without the support and partnerships of the National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conservation district, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and others.
Farmers have been investing some of their own money to get practices on the ground. It’s time that commitment is matched by those at the state and federal levels who also have stakes in finishing this important task.
David Graybill, of Mifflintown, is a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Board of Directors, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Farmer Advisory Council in Pennsylvania.