Middleway grower’s Meadow Green named conservation farm
MIDDLEWAY – Bill W. Grantham says area farmers should be given more credit for their efforts at making their operations greener. He should know all about; an eighth-generation Jefferson County farmer, Grantham’s Meadow Green Farm was recently named the state’s conservation farm of the year.
[cleeng_content id="273920416" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]“There’s been a lot of emphasis on the Chesapeake Bay,” Grantham said during a visit to his Middleway farm. “There is a big argument that the issues coming out of the Chesapeake Bay must be coming from the farmer because he has this broad amount of land and it rains on it and it runs off and so on.”
Grantham says he hopes to use his award to get out the message that local farmers have long been taking steps to reduce agricultural runoff for years, including a major shift toward no-till farming that occurred years ago.
“Some of the practices we are doing now are to show the public that we really are conservationists,” he says. “We really do care about the land. We care about the quality of the water that leaves our land.”
Grantham – along with his wife Kerry and nephew Andrew Upright, who run the farm along with him – has implemented numerous steps to make his farm environmentally friendly. These include bi-yearly nutrient management plans, in which soil samples taken from throughout his farm are tested for their nutrients in order to custom tailor the fertilizer they apply in specific areas.
“It tells you what nutrients you need where so you don’t under-apply or over-apply,” he said. “I thought I knew a lot about my farm, and I knew about the soils. I thought I was doing a really good job. When you do a nutrient management plan, it opens up a whole other source of information – things you never thought about.”
Grantham says that many such conservation measures not only help the environment, but are also in farmers’ own financial interest.
“We do this for a living,” he says. “Anything that leaves here that we could possibly use is a loss, whether it is [nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium] or just sediment erosion. You don’t build that back up over a month or two. It takes years to replace those nutrients.”
Grantham also practices rotational grazing, moving his herd of cattle from one feeding paddock to another in order to prevent overgrazing. He rolls hay out into various parts of his fields rather than using a single central hay ring where cattle could congregate and damage the land. He uses multiple watering pods distributed throughout his farm for the same reason.
A small 10,000 year-old wetland runs through the Grantham’s property. It was previously unfenced, allowing cattle to walk through it. But Grantham decided to fence off the wetland and rehabilitate it, planting more than 1,000 trees and bushes from 33 native species.
“The first thing I wanted to do was to protect this little area,” he says.
Grantham now sees a wide variety of birds nesting in the wetland during the summer month, including many species he says he had never seen before. And the wetland helps to filter the runoff not only on his farm but also that of other farms nearby.
“Not only am I taking care of my problems, I am helping with the farms that are upstream of me,” he says.
For these and other conservation efforts Meadow Green was recognized first as the conservation farm of the year for the local Soil Conservation District, then for the region, and then in October for the entire state.
Grantham emphasized that several area farms have won the award in recent years, underlining the commitment of the local agricultural community to conservation.
“This is the third year in a row that this soil conservation district has won this award,” Grantham says. “We must be doing something right.”
Grantham says he was able to take these steps with the help of numerous farm-support agencies and organizations, including the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District and West Virginia University Agricultural Extension Service.
He says the NRCS in particular helped to provide partial funding for many of his conservation efforts, and that free nutrient management plans offered by the state have also been a great aid in making his farm greener.
“There are folks from the Department of Agriculture that will come in and help you for free,” he says. “In a couple of years you will have to pay for it. It will be $2,500. So I jumped on it.”
He has also made investments in newer technologies to help with smart application of fertilizer, installing GPS systems on tractors and ATVs.
“It kind of keeps you on the cutting edge a little bit,” he says.
Grantham hopes the recognition the award brings will give him the opportunity to tell the story of the conservation efforts local farmers have been making, in the hopes that the Environmental Protection Agency will give more recognition to these practices when it is imposing new regulations.
“I thought I was doing a good job, but no one knew about it,” he says. “Part of it is so that we’re not always having the finger pointed at us.”
“We haven’t really gotten a lot of credit for the work that we have done,” he says. “We get credit from the NRCS and the FSA, but the EPA hasn’t given us much credit.”
At the same time, he says he recognizes the need to continue implementing new conservation practices to help reduce the impact of local agriculture on the health of downstream watersheds.
“All of the water that flows through here ends up in the Chesapeake Bay,” he says. “I’m just trying to leave it better than how I found it.”