POINT PLEASANT — A local farm was recently selected as a finalist for the 2019 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year.
Donald and Alice Hussell of Point Pleasant, Mason County cattle farmers who participate in a federal conservation program to improve water quality by reducing pollutants and erosion on their land, are competing against Lukas and Gabby Newcomer of Noble Farms, Inc., Mineral County farmers who have used a variety of conservation practices to benefit the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Each year, one West Virginia farm receives the Conservation Farm of the Year honor after winning at the county, district and area levels. The finalists have demonstrated a commitment to conservation practices that protect soil, streams, water, grasses, wildlife and other natural resources.
Eleven judges toured each farm at the end of August and ranked the farmers on their use of best management practices, impact on ecological systems and community based activities. West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt is one of the judges.
The winner among the two finalists will be named at the Oct. 22 West Virginia Conservation Partnership Conference Banquet in Flatwoods. The winning farmers will take home $1,000, a sign to display at their farm and 200 hours use of a new John Deere tractor from Middletown Tractor Sales in Fairmont.
Don and Alice exclude the cattle on their farm from a creek in a 16-acre area that is enrolled in the voluntary Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.
The idea behind CREP is to encourage farmers to remove some of their pastureland or cropland from agricultural production and convert the land to native grasses, trees and other vegetation, according to the USDA. This helps to enhance wildlife habitat and improve water quality by reducing sediment, nutrients, nitrogen and other pollutants from entering streams and rivers.
The Farm Service Agency will provide cooperators who participate in CREP with rental payments and cost share assistance.
Although he was skeptical at first about implementing CREP on his farm, Don is now enthusiastic about the program. His streams are cleaner and clearer.
“The first year, I could go down to the creek and could actually see the difference when it rained,” Don said. “The water coming down the creek, it wasn’t as muddy as it was when the cattle were in it.”
The Hussells also rotate their cattle in and out of eight paddocks to improve grass production and grazing efficiency. They also provide five troughs for water and they use no restricted pesticides or commercial fertilizer on the farm.
Lukas excludes livestock out of Patterson Creek and has planted about 150 sugar maple trees near the creek. These efforts improve wildlife habitat, reduce nutrients entering the creek and provide a future source of shade for animals. This helps to improve water quality in a creek that ultimately feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
He regularly seeks the scientific expertise of soil, farming, grazing and forestry experts to better manage the farm.
When Lukas realized that excluding the livestock from waterways would keep them from shade, he built his own portable shade structures to provide the animals with cover in the pasture. The livestock on his farm includes cattle, pigs, hens, broiler chickens and turkeys.
He practices “intensive rotational grazing” where he rotates cattle through paddocks every day to lessen their impact on the land.
“That’s allowing us to extend our grazing season long into the winter and using less hay,” Lukas said. “It’s allowing us to build soil health and organic matter by not having to put a lot of inputs in but by managing cattle and moving them to fresh pasture every day.”
Among his outreach efforts, Lukas recently hosted sustainable agriculture students from Potomac State College at the farm.
Like the Hussells, the Newcomers also do not use pesticides on their farm.
Submitted by West Virginia Conservation Agency.