Happy Earth Day
Local dairy farmers maintain, protect, and enhance thousands of acres of open space throughout New England. Every dairy farm has practices in place to make sure they are caring for their soil. Soil is a natural resource that sustains our herd’s nutrition, our next generations to come, and our business’ financial health. Stewardship of our land is also an investment in food security now and for the future of our community.
Barstow’s Longview Farm takes care of the soil that we farm which has benefits for our business and milk quality, yes, but also for our local wildlife, air and water quality, our community, and planet!
Planting Cover Crops
Like most New England dairy farms, Barstow’s Longview Farm plants a cover crop in the late fall. But why sow seeds just ahead of winter? Cover crops aren’t planted as a cash crop, but as an investment in our soils. Having roots in the ground through the wet and windy winter prevents erosion of that valuable Earth. Cover crops also reduce both the rate and quantity of water that drains off the field, increases soil biomass and fertility, enhances carbon sequestration, shades out pesky weeds come spring, and are much better for wildlife through the winter compared to a big empty, dirt field.
Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and interrupt pest, weed, and disease cycles. We grow corn, hay, and alfalfa to feed our dairy herd on 450 acres, and every 4-6 years, we change which field is growing what in order to replenish those soil nutrients.
Soil health on a dairy farm is a closed loop system. We know that excellent soil produces exceptional crops. And that exceptional crops nourish healthy cows. Healthy cows produce top quality milk… and they also produce something else… POO! Cow manure plays an essential role in sending nutrients back into the soil to restart that beautiful cycle. We apply cow manure (and also some food waste thanks to our anaerobic digester!) to our soil between cuttings of hay and corn. Farmers have been using manure in this way for centuries. And thanks to the digester’s process, we’ve seen increased soil health, increased crop yields, and we’ve decreased our chemical fertilizer usage by 90%! Cow power!
No-till? No problem! Barstow’s Longview Farm uses no-till equipment to plant all of our crops on 450 acres of farmland. Tillage is the age old act of turning the soil over. It makes it easy to plant in but is no good for the soil ecosystem’s good fungi, bugs, or wildlife, and increases the rate of erosion by wind and water.
No-till equipment gets the seed in the ground without all that disruption. When a soil ecosystem is intact, more things live in it, and living things hold carbon. That means the land we farm is holding more carbon in the Earth (where it ought to be) and keeping it out of the atmosphere (which contributes to climate change). No-till planting has other benefits too, it reduces: erosion, soil compaction, fuel usage, and even labor time for the farmers!
Maintaining a Riparian Buffer
In addition to no-till planting and cover cropping, Barstow’s Longview Farm keeps erosion in check by maintaining a riparian buffer of vegetation along streams and waterways like the Connecticut River. Floodplain forests along the Connecticut are unique because of their periodic flooding. These forests contribute many free ecological services to our society: they help filter pollutants to prevent them from entering streams, improve water quality, are critical in controlling erosion, and help buffer rivers against catastrophic flooding.
Floodplain forests are also wildlife corridors and home to a diversity of wildlife. The damp soils create rich insect and amphibian breeding habitats, and these species in turn become prey for woodcock, barred owl, raccoon, coyotes, snakes, and turtles to name a few.
Not every piece of a farmers land is farmed. But in every instance, the health of those abutting floodplain forests, wetlands, etc, plays an important role in keeping the farming ecosystem healthy, balanced, and thriving.
How do we know we are taking care of our soils? Barstow’s Longview Farm works with a soil agronomist (agronomists help farmers manage plants and soils in a sustainable way to support life), to do soil testing on each of our fields biannually. Soil tests help us make measured decisions about crop rotation, manure management, weed and pest control, and fertilizer usage.
For dairy farmers, caring for the land is an important part of our work. We rely on the sun, air, water, and soil to help us produce a safe, nutritional product for you to enjoy.
Pasture Day is May 6
Spring on the farm is an excellent time to consider how local agriculture contributes positively to our community and planet. Bag-your-own compost is available at the farm, hanging flower baskets will be here next week, we are accepting Mother’s Day orders, and Pasture Day is set for May 6.
Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery is currently open daily until 4pm for breakfast, lunch, local grocery, wine and beer, prepared foods, ice cream, porch seating, beautiful views, and fresh air!