CANASTOTA, NY — Whether it was the premise of meeting a supernatural Vermont “Agronomator”, witnessing a rain machine test the water holding capacity of pasture soil or enjoying a first class meal of grass-fed beef and homemade churned ice-cream, over 125 farmers from all agricultural genres filled their knowledge base to capacity on an early May day.
The Madison County in-field pasture event featured two inquisitive dairy farm families, the always-practical UVM Extension Agronomist and Nutrient Management Specialist, Dan Hudson and the traveling National Grazing Lands Coalition Soil Health educator, Fay Benson. The combination of talents and land bases led eager participants to discover more about what was growing under their feet and find solutions to concerns in growing quality pastures.
In the morning session, Jerry Schlabach who operates a 75-head pasture-based dairy with his family on their rolling 167-acre land base provided the backdrop for Professor Hudson to detail how to identify grass species, interpret soil tests, teach subtle grazing management practices to improve fertility transfer and using a spade, look below the sod to read the soil structure and see the signs of microbial life. “It’s important to validate your management with science and by watching your cows and soil life”, said Hudson.
The many visitors enjoyed an exquisite local lunch of fresh rolls, burgers, organic salad greens and homemade desserts and ice-cream prepared by the Troyer family for a donation to the Peterboro Amish Community School.
After lunch, NY Organic Dairy Initiative Coordinator, Fay Benson, featured a rain simulator demonstration from the two farms’ pasture swards and a neighboring continuous cornfield. It was very evident as witnessed by farmers and agency personnel that run-off and infiltration rates were favorable with a “covered” soil. Benson described The National Grazing Lands Coalition Soil Health trailer’s rolling laboratory and how it is equipped to measure vital physical, chemical, and biological components of soil health. “These birds-eye comparisons are an important tool to improve the understanding of water holding capacities and how a farmer’s soil management can improve the bottom line,” said Benson.
The lively soil conservation example gave participants an added boost in their step as they traversed the 282 acres of grasslands which feeds the Troyer family’s 60 head 100 percent grass-fed organic dairy and livestock enterprises. John Troyer and Dan Hudson gave tips on how to improve pastures by incorporating multi-species grazing as well as seeding, fertility and grazing strategies. Many farmers chimed in on how they improved their grazing operations for the benefit of the group. The peer-to-peer sharing of experiences lasted until chore-time.
“It’s been so interesting and I’ve learned so much. This has to be one of the best field days ever for me,” exclaimed Sarah Stuart from Meadowood Farm in Cazenovia, NY.
This robust workshop was sponsored by The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Morrisville State College’s School of Agriculture, Sustainability, Business and Entrepreneurship, Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, Madison County Cornell Cooperative Extension, Maple Hill Creamery, The New York State AEM Program, The Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance, The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and the Schlabach and Troyer Family Farms.