In honor of National Farmers Day on Oct. 12, Country Folks decided to launch a new way of recognizing some of those who have graced our pages: the inaugural Farmer of the Year Award.
We didn’t have to stray far from home to find our first recipient. Located just a mile and a half from the Lee Newspapers headquarters is Dygert Farms, an operation that’s notable in many important ways. Some of their accomplishments – from just the past two years! – include:
- Celebrating their 300th anniversary in 2023 – the farm has been in the family since 1723
- Winning the 2023 AEM-Leopold Conservation Award
- In 2022, they received the Silver Medal for overall fluid milk at the New York State Fair
- In 2023, they received the Gold Medal for the best chocolate milk at the NYS Fair
(These awards are based on Cornell University’s Voluntary Shelf Life Program; samples are sent to them twice a year from all processing plants and numerous tests are run in addition to flavor.)
Dygert Farms is a 13th generation dairy farm located in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. The farmhouse sits on the original 50 acres that was deeded to the Dygert family in 1723 from the Queen of England. They raise and grow 90% of their own feed. And they have been named a Dairy of Distinction in New York and have received several Super Milk Awards.
In 2015, the Dygerts decided to start diversifying their farm operation and began delivering fresh, local glass bottled milk to businesses and homes in the area, with the goal of bottling their own milk in the future. They began building a processing plant on the farm in 2019, and started processing their own milk in April 2021. Today, they sell milk in both glass and plastic containers, heavy cream and half-and-half, and have partnered with Cabot to sell butter and cheese and local farm Thomas Poultry to offer farm fresh eggs, all via Barn2Door.
From the Sand County Foundation, who awards the Leopold Conservation Award, comes this background:
“Like 12 generations before him, Robby Dygert farms with an eye to the future. He celebrates the farm’s tricentennial this year with his wife Shannon, and their children Dylan, Olivia, Tucker and Cassidy.
“The couple purchased his family’s farm and their first 65 Holstein cows shortly after getting married in 2009. The farm has since grown to a milking herd of 240 cows and 650 acres of owned and rented land.
“Robby and Shannon are the latest in a long line of Dygerts who protect this dairy farm’s soil and water. When Dygert Farms’ first conservation plan was written in 1962 it provided a blueprint for crop rotations, contour strips, tile drainage and pasture renovation. More recently, Robby and Shannon sought the support of the Montgomery County Soil & Water Conservation District to protect water quality with modern improvements to the farm’s infrastructure.
“Through participation in New York’s Agricultural Environmental Management program, the Dygerts received financial assistance to construct a manure storage facility and covered laneway between their barnyards.
“They also installed a system that collects leachate from their silage bunk silos. While most of leachate is applied to crop fields, a vegetative filter strip captures any that spills over during heavy rains. Likewise, a grassed diversion ditch is situated uphill from the barnyard to divert clean water away during rains.
“Dygert Farms works with a team of professionals to manage their soil, water and livestock manure to maximize crop yields while protecting ground water supplies. A custom manure applicator applies the manure’s nutrients to crop fields in accordance with the farm’s Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. A planner helps the Dygerts regularly update the plan to reflect the changes in crop rotations, livestock numbers, planned new practices and seasonal weather conditions. All wash water from their milkhouse and milking parlor is collected and stored to be later applied to fields.
“Strip-cropping, which acts as a filter strip within fields, has been a staple at Dygert Farms for decades. Five years of hay, followed by four years of corn, is their preferred crop rotation. Minimal tillage is used on a few fields, but the majority are managed with a no-till system to increase soil fertility, retain moisture and prevent runoff. To achieve similar conservation goals, the Dygerts are growing cover crops of rye on 50 acres.
“Sometimes sustainability in agriculture can mean simple economic survival. The Dygerts could have given up dairy farming when they lost a supplier to sell their milk to. Instead, they adapted to dairy’s ever-fluctuating market and business climate by retooling in a non-conventional way. They made the move to make, process and sell their own dairy products.
“A unique mix of new and old is to be expected at Dygert Farms … Its owners are young farmers using conservation practices to benefit the environment and their bottom line.”
The Dygerts are being honored both by Country Folks and folks in the region for their outstanding dedication to sustainable agriculture, remarkable productivity, steadfast preservation of rural traditions and their integral role as cherished members of the community.
A Facebook fan wrote, “So proud of their hard work and accomplishments. If you know Shannon and Robby, they do so much for the community too besides all their yummy dairy treats. They also have welcomed students, scouts, foreign exchange students, you name it, to the farm … Congratulations Shannon and Robby!”
To learn more about them, visit dygertfarmscreamery.com.
Other nominees for the 2023 Country Folks Farm of the Year included Kulp Family Farm LLC of Martinsburg, PA; Maple Lane Farms of Marietta, NY; Woznicka Orchards of Cicero, NY; Sinan Farm of Home, PA; and Shults Farm of Canajoharie, NY. We’ll be opening up nominations for next year’s award in September 2024.