2017 Summer Farm Meeting at Bridgeman View Farm

Thursday, August 17th was the 2017 Summer Farm Meeting at Tim and Martha Magnant’s farm, Bridgeman View Farm in Franklin, VT!  This event was hosted by the UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program (NWCS), Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC), and Farmer’s Watershed Alliance (FWA).  There were approximately 50 attendees comprised of community members, farmers, organization members, and state officials.

This year’s topics included conservation tillage practices such as no-till corn and interseeded cover crops, soil health, and precision agriculture.  Please see some of the highlights below:

Tim Magnant of Bridgeman View Farm:  The event began with Tim thanking everyone for coming out.  He shared how he enjoys being able to host educational opportunities for farmers and community members, and that he sees events like the 2017 Summer Farm Meeting as “a meeting of the minds”.  Tim stated that, “If it costs me anything, I get paid twice back for it.”
Jim Hershey – President of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance:  Jim gave a presentation on his trials/success in improving soil health through no-till practices and cover crops.  Jim is a farmer himself, and manages other farmer’s land in PA assisting in planting and nutrient management.  He noted that often poor water quality health is pointed at agriculture, so it is important for farmers to showcase the efforts they are making towards improving it.  Cover crops have a plethora of benefits when it comes to water quality!  They keep nutrients in the soil and out of the water.  The roots go into the soil, feeding microbes which recycle nutrients into the crops.  Healthy soil provides habitat for beneficial species such as earthworms.  They also soak up the sun which helps the soil retain moisture.  He encourages farmers to, “Try to keep your soil covered and something planted 365 days a year.”  He uses various seed blends including rye grass, clover, radish, oats, peas, and more.
Brian Zimmerman of BZ Manufacturing:  Brian has worked at BZ Manufacturing (a division of Hershey Farms) since 2006.  Brian designs, builds, and manages the equipment for Jim, such as the interseeder Tim has.  He spoke about how new precision agriculture technologies can be applied on older planters, and that there is a lot of customization available.  Brian has seen how long-term no-till combined with cover cropping can help reduce unevenness in corn fields.  His presentation included things to consider when planting cover crops, as well as different cover crop combinations they have found success with in PA.  Some things to consider: weather conditions, sunlight, control methods – can grow into weeds if not terminated in time, planter readiness – spikes can wrap, so using smooth disks or ‘sharktooth’ styles can help prevent wrapping.  Cover crop seeds to use: radish, rye grass, cow peas, black oats, triticale, hairy vetch, Blansa clover, crimson clover, barley, and Austrian winter peas.
Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts:  Secretary Tebbetts encouraged farmers to tell their story.  Doing environmentally positive projects on your farm can help public perception.  He expressed that the Agency is aware that since it has been a wet season, farmers might need extensions on things like spreading manure.  He said that the earlier farmers make these requests, the more likely him and his team will be able to give the variances through the state.  Secretary Tebbetts also shared that the Agency will be focusing on RAP (Required Agricultural Practices) education for small farmers.  “What we’re trying to do is do a ramp up on education before we get really into the certification part.”
Tim Magnant (right) & Jeffrey Sanders (left) at the Ben & Jerry’s Field:  This corn field has been no-till and interseeded for 3 years.  UVM Extension has done a lot of cover crop work/research on this field with their equipment.  The soil health has improved tremendously!  With the combination of cover crops and no-till, corn yields are higher than conventional corn BUT only if combined.  The yield is less than conventional corn if you use no-till without cover cropping.  So, in order to see an improvement you need to combine no-till and cover cropping.  While the cost of cover crops up-front can seem high (purchasing extra seed), Tim said it is worth it to him because he saves on fuel costs, herbicide costs, and time in the tractor seat.  Also, he finds harvesting easier when utilizing cover crops because they make the soil more solid, helping to hold up the tractor.  The UVM team has been experimenting with cover crop seed combinations, as well as coordinating planting time.
Lunch Break:  We enjoyed a lunch generously provided by Champlain Valley Equipment!  This gave folks time to meet one another and discuss the mornings activities.  We also got to hear some updates from the NRCS and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.  We learned that, due to the efforts made by farmers, the phosphorus levels in the Lake Champlain basin have gone down!
Fay Benson – Cornell Cooperative Extension:  The Cornell Soil Health Lab gave a soil health demo which used a rain simulator (pictured above) on 5 different types of soil.   These soil types included a conventionally tilled corn field, a no-till corn field, a buffer strip, a continuously grazed pasture, and a grazed pasture that was rotated.  The simulation showed how the different types of soil retain water, filter water, produce runoff, and how much sediment is in the runoff they produce.  The front row of jars were there to catch the runoff, and the back row of jars caught water that filtered through the soil.  Ideally, the front jar should be nearly empty, and the back jar should be mostly full and clear to show that the soil properly absorbed and filtered the rain water.  Rachel Gilker of Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy was assisting Benson in the simulation and interacting with the crowd.  She shared the water retention benefits of adding organic matter to soil.  “You add 1% organic matter in an acre, you’ll hold another 20,000-25,000 gallons of water.”
Tim Magnant (left) & Scott Magnan (center):  The final activity on the agenda featured Precision Agriculture Technology on Bridgeman View Farm.  There are various types of precision agriculture technologies available.  Many farmers find use in manure injection, advanced seed tube monitoring on a corn planter, and more!  On Tim’s tractor, he and Scott Magnan’s Custom Service installed Auto-Steer.  Auto-steer gives Tim the ability to easily and accurately plant/spread in straight rows, even on a hilly field.  This technology uses GPS and GIS software so that a user no longer needs to rely on row markers.  Tim finds less stress when using spreaders.  This technology is extremely user-friendly and easy to learn.  It helps to not overlap rows.  Overlapping can lead to some parts of the field being over seeded/spread and other parts being missed.  The ability to make straight and precise rows saves a farmer time, money, and resources.

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