FLATWOODS — A Mineral County couple who emphasize natural processes in their farming operation that benefits the soil, grasses, water and animals have received the 2019 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year award.
Lukas and Gabby Newcomer of Noble Farms, Inc. near Burlington in Mineral County won the award during the West Virginia Conservation Partnership Conference banquet in Flatwoods on Tuesday evening. The Newcomers’ farm was in the running against fellow finalists Don and Alice Hussell, who own and operate their farm near Point Pleasant in Mason County.
Each year, one West Virginia farm receives the Conservation Farm of the Year honor after winning at the county, district and area levels.
According to a press release from the West Virginia Conservation Agency, both the Newcomers and the Hussells have shown a real commitment to conservation practices that protect soil, streams, water, grasses, wildlife and other natural resources.
The Newcomers exclude livestock out of Patterson Creek and have planted about 150 sugar maple trees along the creek. Their efforts improve wildlife habitat, reduce nutrients entering the creek and will provide a future source of shade for animals. This helps to improve water quality in a creek that ultimately feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
They regularly seek the scientific expertise of soil, farming, grazing and forestry experts to better manage the farm. Lukas has attended the Appalachian Grazing Conference, which is held once every two years in Morgantown, to learn more about what will work for his operation.
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.
The Newcomers practice “intensive rotational grazing,” where they rotate cattle through paddocks every day to lessen their impact on the land. A benefit of this process is that the grazing season can begin earlier in the spring and extend longer into the winter months, which means the Newcomers do not need to provide their cattle with as much hay.
“The cattle seem to thrive with what we’re doing,” Lukas said.
Lukas uses many of the teachings of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia. Salatin uses natural processes in his farming techniques instead of working against nature.
For instance, Lukas allows his chickens to follow the cattle in rotational grazing on his farm. In this role, the chickens act as “pasture sanitizers” by controlling parasites and helping to prepare paddocks for the next grazing cycle.
The Newcomers also plan to install new tree swallow houses along Patterson Creek.
“When we’re down here by the barn, all the barn swallows come out and they eat flies off the backs of the cows,” Lukas said. “But as you get away from the buildings, they don’t have shelter any more so they quit following the cows. So we’re going to do birdhouses the length of (Patterson Creek).”
Among his outreach efforts, Lukas has hosted sustainable agriculture students from Potomac State College at the farm to share what he is doing at the site. He also invites customers to visit the farm to learn more about how their food is produced.
As previously reported, the Hussells exclude the cattle on their farm from a creek in a 16-acre area that’s 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.
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.
The mission of the West Virginia Conservation Agency is to provide for and promote the protection and conservation of West Virginia’s soil, land, water and related resources for the health, safety and general welfare of the state’s citizens.
Information submitted by the West Virginia Conservation Agency.