2018

Featured Farmer: Wayne Fiske, Windfall Acres, Franklin 

Featured Farmer: Wayne Fiske, Windfall Acres, Franklin

Introduction

To get to know the FWA membership, we are highlighting an FWA member and their good work!  In this article, our featured farmer is Wayne Fiske, owner of Windfall Acres, a first generation farmer, FWA board member for ten years, new FSA board member, father of four, and grandfather of ten.  Wayne’s past community involvements include serving as an MVU board member for six years, Franklin select boards for 10 years, Franklin Road Commissioner for 5 years, and on the Friends of the Northern Lake and Franklin Watershed Committees.  He is also the recipient of the Franklin County NRCS District Outstanding Conservation Farmer and Vermont Dairy of Distinction awards.

Wayne and Nancy Fiske stand in front of corn that is ready to be chopped.

When I arrived at Windfall Acres, Wayne was working with his son Jon, to get the chopper ready for another round of corn harvesting.  His wife, Nancy, had just left to purchase a part that needed replacing.  We had just gotten a heavy deluge of rain the day before, but today was bright and sunny, and by mid-morning the corn was dry enough to harvest.

Wayne and Nancy bought the farm nearly 40 years ago at a time when the farm they were renting in St. Albans was slowly being sold to developers.  It was a big change, moving from an operation that could house 40 cows to one that could be a home to more than twice that many.  He now milks 135 cows.

Water Quality Efforts

When we walked into the barn, Wayne’s curious cows came over to investigate.

Nestled close to the start of the Rock River, Wayne notes, “we have to be careful of what we are doing.” But even before water quality became the hot topic it is today, Wayne had been managing his farm to reduce erosion.  Shortly after he bought the farm, he noticed that 2-3 foot gullies were forming in his corn land.  Recognizing that this loss of soil meant a loss in productivity, he changed his management practices to incorporate strip cropping, alternating stretches of corn and hay. If the water gathers speed and sediment in the sections of corn, the hay reduces the speed and catches the sediment, preventing runoff into local waterways.  A government program paid for five years of strip cropping and Wayne has kept it in his management system for over 30.  Only one year did he plant corn in the entire field and the effectiveness of the strip cropping was once again proven on this field.

This picture is a view of what strip cropping, cover cropping, and no-till look like.

Another water quality effort Wayne was quick to point out was the silage leachate (liquid seeping from stored feed) system built with the help of an NRCS engineer. He emphasized that the project was successful because she was willing to listen and together they built a system that worked for him.  Wayne, like most farmers in Vermont, also plants cover crops (plants grown during the off-season) that cover the ground, preventing erosion and soaking up nutrients like phosphorus.  And this year he put some of his corn in no-till, a management system that disturbs the soil as little as possible.  He had tried no-till a number of years ago, but it was still a relatively new practice, not much was known about how to do it right in Vermont, and his corn yielded poorly that year.  Now that no-till has become more prominent in Vermont, he was willing to try it again and is seeing good results.

 

Milk in Context

And Wayne really loves farming.  He went to school for heavy equipment and tried a year of construction work, all the while thinking about agriculture.  But the dairy business is a struggle these days.  According to the USDA, since 2015 the average cost to produce milk has been 3 dollars more than dairy farmers are getting paid to produce it.  Consumers may be surprised to hear that the cost they pay at the grocery store for a gallon of milk actually dropped by 19 cents between 2015 and 2017, in 2018, that price went down another 30 cents.  Great for us, not so great for farmers like Wayne.  It’s disheartening and discouraging to put all your time, effort, your life into creating a product you are proud of, that most people use in their everyday lives, and still wonder if it’s a business you would want to pass on to your grandchildren.  These are just a few reasons why it’s so important to support your local farmer.

Resilience

Nancy sits in the tractor, ready to chop the corn!

In these difficult times of low milk prices and increasingly expensive regulations, I ask him why he does it: the 12-16 hour work days, constantly jumping from one thing to the next, putting the cows first, and delaying holiday celebrations for farm work. Wayne said more than once in my short time with him that, he “wouldn’t trade it for anything…there’s not a better way, not a better place to raise a family.”

For Wayne, there is no non-work day, no weekend.  His Saturday is the same as his Friday, but he still appreciates the beauty of the sunset and the sunrise on his farm. He appreciates his family’s support, not only in understanding his work commitments, but as an integral part to the success of the farm in the early years with milk and odd chores.  Help in times of needs still continues to be given from his children, Heather, Sarah, Jon, Ashley, their spouses, and their children.  His wife, Nancy, got up each morning to get the kids ready, worked her nursing job, and came home afterward to help on the farm.  She took vacation days to help chop corn.  Now, partially-retired, she still chops the corn, an activity that still puts a smile on her face.  She says, “It’s the best part of the year.”

And for the Fiskes, there’s no end in sight.  To give the farm every opportunity to succeed, Wayne and Nancy hired a full time milker, are diversifying production by adding beef cows, and constructing a greenhouse for vegetable production.  It’s a new chapter in their lives and as Nancy said, “I’m all in.”  As Wayne noted, “I’m getting toward retirement and it’s hard to let go…giving up is not for me.”

I asked them both why they chose farming.  Their responses echo how a lot of farmers feel: it’s tangible, it challenging, it provides a sense of purpose, the ability to see your accomplishments every day, not seeing yourself do anything else. Wayne remarked, “It’s a way of life.  It’s in my blood I guess…wouldn’t have it any other way.”  At one point in my time with Wayne, he frankly said, “Proud of it, damn right.”  And he should be.

A view of the farm from Nancy and Wayne’s driveway.

 

 

 

Learn How to Handle Tough Questions at Discussion Training

Free Workshop Open to All Farmers! 
Learn How to Handle Tough Questions at Discussion Training
Friday, October 26th from 10am – 2pm
Yankee Farm Credit Office
130 Upper Welden St, St Albans City, VT 05478
Lunch Included

Do you think we can do a better job explaining why we do what we do as farmers? Are you hesitant to engage in conversations with the average consumer? Misinformation abounds, but it’s up to us in the agricultural community to set the record straight.

 

Join us at the upcoming “Productive Conversations” training workshop on Friday, October 26 at the Yankee Farm Credit office in St. Albans to learn how to lead positive conversations about the tough issues surrounding our industry, with a specific focus on water quality and the environment. The workshop will train you to get your point across in all types of settings including in person, in a town hall setting, online or when speaking to a reporter.

RSVP by emailing your name, farm name, and number attending to Catherine Davidson at FarmersWatershedAllianceNW@gmail.com

Workshop sponsored by New England Dairy Promotion Board.

 

 

 

Dairy Farm Income Enhancement Proposals

Dairy farm income enhancement proposals have been submitted to this website: https://dairyproposals2018.com/view-proposals/

Please take some time to review these proposals and voice your opinion, either by commenting on existing proposals or submitting a proposal on behalf of yourself or your farm/operation!

 

 

VAAFM Grassed Waterway & Filter Strip Program

Sunflower Viewing & Picking in Georgia, VT

FWA Director, Scott Magnan, is welcoming guests to visit his sunflower fields on Wilder Drive in Georgia this week through Sunday!

To visit is free though donations are appreciated. Sunflowers are available to pick for $5/flower.

Please respect those they share the road with, park by the machinery and read the sign posted at the entry to their land.

Call Scott at 363-7707 to set up a time to visit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UVM Extension NWCS 2018 Field Day

We had a great time at the UVM Extension Northwest Crops & Soils (NWCS) 2018 Field Day, and were happy to sponsor speaker and farmer Blake Vince for the event!  The day began with a tour around Borderview Research Farm where members of the NWCS team explained the various research trials going on, presented some data they ahve collected, and interpreted what that data means for farmers when choosing crop varieties and making management decisions.  Attendees then enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch and the Tasting Tent!  During the final hour and a half, attendees could choose an afternoon session to go to.  The afternoon sessions were on healthy soil (speaker: Blake Vince), barley and hops, perennial forages, hemp irrigation, and pollinators.

In this afternoon session the group discussed soil health, cover crops and no-till.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VHCB 2018 Grant Opportunities for Farmers!

Are you a farmer seeking funding to help complete a capital improvement project on your farm?

The Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, a program of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, has grant funds available for farmers!

Eligible farmers can apply for Water Quality Grants or Dairy Improvement Grants, both of which provide grants of $5,000 to $40,000.  Matching funds are required for both programs and may include federal or state grants as well as cash or loans.  VHCB will hold three competitive grant rounds, with the first upcoming deadline on August 13, 2018.  Application materials will be available on their website by the end of June.

 

Visit the links below for more information!

  

 

Conservation Road Signs “For My Land, For Our Water”

Do the people driving down your road recognize cover cropping when they see it?  Do they notice a field where “no-till” planting is building soil health?  Do they appreciate the importance of growing permanent grass, especially on our most vulnerable soils?

New roadside signs developed by the Franklin County Conservation District (website hyperlinked) are available to celebrate examples of such conservation practices!  The tag-line, “For my land, for our water” conveys the benefits the landowner sees in soil health, stream-bank stabilization, and crop productivity, as well as the water quality benefits that everyone appreciates.

The FWA purchased 65 signs to give to our members for free!  30 for cover cropping, 20 for growing grass, and 15 for no-till.  These signs will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis – so please email us at FarmersWatershedAllianceNW@gmail.com if you would like some signs for your fields!

Placement and storage considerations:

  • Place signs more than 14 feet from the white line of any state roads or they will be picked up by the state highway crews. Restrictions on town roads may vary.
  • Place your signs where they will be visible from the road, and not blocked by growing vegetation.
  • Remove and store your signs when the practice you are advertising is no longer obviously visible (e.g. cover crop has been terminated.)
  • Remove and store your signs before winter. With proper care, signs should last two or more seasons.
  • Take a picture with the sign, the practice you are promoting (and yourself, if you wish!) and send it to FranklinCountyNRCD@gmail.com and/or FarmersWatershedAllianceNW@gmail.com. Your pictures will be used to further promote the good work farmers are doing.

Product specs:

  • 18” x 24”
  • Double-sided
  • Full color
  • Wire H-frame stake included
  • UV-resistant

 

2018 Annual Meeting

The Farmer’s Watershed Alliance’s 2018 Annual Meeting was held at the St. Albans Elks Lodge 1566 on Thursday, April 12th.  There were 68 attendees – check out some highlights below!

 

The evening began with opening remarks from our Chair, Darlene Reynolds.  She gave an introduction, spoke of the importance of getting farmer’s stories in the media, Vermont’s current agricultural climate, and the ways in which the FWA supports our members. 

 

Guests then enjoyed a delicious dinner catered by Dairy Center Catering!  After dinner there was a series of presentations.  Catherine Davidson, FWA Program Coordinator, showcased the FWA’s 2017 achievements as well as 2018 projects that farmer’s can get involved with.

Accomplishments:

  • Hiring of a full-time Program Coordinator – August 2017
  • Updated website/web presence
  • Building and implementing a cloud-based online database system for membership
  • Additional funding awarded through writing successful grant/contract proposals/applications
  • FWA’s first Precision Agriculture Forum – January 2018
  • FWA’s first booth at the Vermont Farm Show – January/February 2018
  • The 6 AerWays FWA owns – used on 978 acres over 7 farms
  • Installing 3 Grassed Waterways on Farms this spring with funding awarded through the Lake Champlain Basin Program

2018/2019 Projects to get involved in:

  • Grassed Waterways and Filter Strips program funded by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture
  • 5-part Precision Agriculture on Farms in Vermont Video Series funded by the Lake Champlain Basin Program

 

Heather Darby, FWA Treasurer, gave a presentation on the UVM Extension Northwest Crops & Soils Team/FWA ongoing Tile Drainage project, followed by a legislative update.

 

Jeff Sanders, FWA’s Farm Assessment Coordinator, talked about the work FWA has accomplished through the VAAFM Northlake contract.  A total of $115,000 has been spent by VAAFM thus far on these projects.  We have 7 contracted projects, of which 2 have been completed:

  1. Excavate fallen manure stack from man-made pond -> Completion of this project has reduced the potential for nutrients to leach into Lake Carmi and conservation habitat
  2. Barnyard improvement, clean water diversion, lane-way improvement -> Completion of this project has reduced nutrient loss to surface waters and improved the barnyard making for happier cows!

 

‘Remembering Dick Longway’:  The FWA played an Across the Fence clip of when Dick won ‘2010 Vermont Dairy Farmer of the Year’.  His family was given a plaque by the FWA recognizing him as a leader in the agricultural community, being on the forefront of implementing and promoting land stewardship on farms in Vermont.

 

The evening closed with a comedy & music performance by comedian Rusty DeWees!

 

Thank you to all of our members and sponsors who made this evening possible:

 

H730 Proposes to Deem Lake Carmi a “Lake in Crisis”

Your fellow farmers need your support!

As part of Vermont’s agricultural community, you likely know that there has been tremendous pressure on farms that live and grow crops in the Lake Carmi Watershed.  A bill sitting in Montpelier (H730 – hyperlinked for reference) may actually get passed.  This bill would allow ANR to cease all agricultural activities in the watershed if necessary, deeming Lake Carmi a “lake in crisis”.

Over the past few weeks, the farmers in the Lake Carmi Watershed have been working with unbiased UVM Extension to pull together information to present in Montpelier.  This information clearly shows the amazing job this group is doing to reduce their impact on Lake Carmi.

On Thursday, April 12th from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. we will have an opportunity to present this information to Ag and Natural Resource Committees in a joint hearing in Montpelier.

We are asking FWA members join the hearing to support their fellow farmers in Lake Carmi.  You will not need to say anything – just be there for the others that will.

If you can attend please contact Jeff or Heather or email FarmersWatershedAllianceNWgmail.com ASAP – we would like to setup a carpool.

If you cannot attend but would like to watch, the FWA will be Live Streaming this meeting from the Franklin Grand Isle County Farmer’s Watershed Alliance Facebook page.