Photo credit: Jeannie Bartlett: Graduates and teaching assistants of the Franklin County 2019 Nutrient Management Class.
Vermont Business Magazine Dairy and beef farming requires as much attention to the land as to the animals, and this winter 13 local farms dug into the details of improving their land. Through six weeks of class, farmers have worked to complete a Nutrient Management Plan. The plans will guide their nutrient applications and crop rotations for the coming years, aiming to improve farm productivity, soil health, and water quality.
Rosalie Williams milks about 45 cows on her organic farm in Bakersfield. “Being a small farm, I’d rather put my money into my land than into buying grain,” she said. “The class helped me learn how to use legumes to grow nitrogen on my farm and improve the yields from my land.”
The students represented a variety of dairies: organic, conventional, 80 acres, 500 acres, some growing only grass, others growing corn, some investing in new infrastructure and others keeping costs minimal.
“I took the class because I knew I would learn something valuable about my farm,” said Scott Korhonen, who raises about 40 Black Angus on pastures Franklin. “And I learned even more than I expected. This was not just a class to check a box – it was an education.”
The class was taught by agronomist and soils specialist Heather Darby from UVM Extension, with assistance from the local Conservation District. Similar classes are taught every year in four other regions across the state, with about 50 farms completing the class statewide this year. Lectures covered such topics as nutrient cycling, nutrient needs for various crops, soil sampling, soil health, estimating yields, recordkeeping, and new environmental protections under the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).
“Soil samples show you exactly what’s going on,” reflected Williams. “Before this class I would say if the hay looked right it was probably good. But you have to have all the different nutrients in good feed, and I learned here that to get the right nutrients in my feed, I have to have the right nutrients in my soil. I was raised old-time,” she continued. “So it was crucial for me to get exposure to all the knowledge we have now. When my granddaughter takes on the farm, I want to be giving her healthy, productive land.”
After each day’s lecture, farmers used an online software to begin building their Nutrient Management Plans. The plans serve both as agronomic tools for the farmers, and as documentation of many aspects of their compliance with the RAPs. Some farms will be actively changing their nutrient management as a result of the planning process, while others found all they had to do is document their current practices.
“Part my farm is in the Lake Carmi watershed,” Korhonen shared. “My farm is small enough I’m not required to have a Nutrient Management Plan, but between wanting to learn and seeing so much attention on Lake Carmi, it seemed like a smart thing to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a requirement for me down the road.”
Now that they have a documented plan for their nutrient applications and harvests, farmers will keep records of their actual activities and annually update their plans. Graduates of previous year’s classes are already working with the Conservation District or UVM to write their updates.
“I think the class was extremely beneficial, and the help from the assistants was wonderful,” said Williams. “I recommend everyone take it.”
Anyone interested in the 2020 class can call the Conservation District at 802-528-4176 to learn more and apply.
The mission of the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District is to promote land use that supports human livelihoods and sustains ecosystems in Franklin County, VT. We empower and convene landowners and land-users to prioritize and address natural resource concerns through USDA programs and our own, locally-developed programs. We recognize water quality and the continuance of our land-based economy as key concerns for Franklin County today. Our organization is directed by a volunteer board of five locally-elected supervisors.
Visit franklincountynrcd.org, or call 802-528-4176.
Source: St. Albans – Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District franklincountynrcd.org