Located in Western New York, Humbert Farms has become a well-known name in sustainable agriculture. For five generations the Humbert family has been farming in Wayne County and today grow corn, soybeans and wheat across 3,500 acres. They were recently named a finalist for the New York-AEM Leopold Conservation Award for their above and beyond dedication and upkeep to their land, water and soil.
Humbert Farms has several management practices they include on their operation to ensure a sustainable future. Some of these methods include planting cover crops, reducing their use of petroleum fertilizer, minimizing tillage, crop rotation and erosion management. Mark Humbert, the current owner of the farm, noted that sustainability is both about the land and the business. The practices need to maintain the land as well as the financial state of the farm, not one or the other. On their farm, the land is their primary asset. By keeping the land in good working condition, crop yields increase, and therefore so does profitability to benefit all sides of the business.
Goal setting and continuing education are important considerations for the Leopold Award. Within the next five years, the farm has set a goal to have 100% of their land under cover crops. Cover crops are planted while the main crop is not being grown in a field. The purpose is to keep a desirable plant growing in the soil whenever possible to mitigate weeds, increase soil organic matter and minimize erosion, all while also being able to harvest an additional crop.
Cover crops were initially introduced to Mark during his days of organic farming, and through partners like the USDA-NRCS, he was able to implement them into Humbert Farms. Mark said that with the crops they currently grow, finding the right cover crop to follow a commodity can be difficult, especially with a short New York growing season. If a cover crop is not “green” or ready in time to harvest before snow or cold weather arrives, profitability takes a hit since they are not able to regain the money they put into the additional seed and labor, although benefits can still be seen in weed suppression and soil organic matter. The farm is always trying new seed varieties and variations on the cover crop to find what works best for them.
Committing to sustainable farming methods can be a daunting decision, but for Mark it was easy. “I have this desire to make sure the farm lives beyond me,” he said.
Because this land has been in the family for over 100 years, it is important to Mark that the land remains available for future generations to come, and that will not happen if it’s left to them in a poor condition. His intention is to leave the land better than he found it for his children and grandchildren, to create a sustainable position for the farm in terms of land and finances. One of his goals is to excite the next generation of agriculture. As part of succession planning, the grandchildren are given the opportunity to learn if agriculture is their passion and to see if Humbert Farms could become their future.
Mark works alongside his sons Ethan, who is now a partner on the farm and oversees day-to-day operations, and Jacob, who also works on the farm full-time. While other family members are not official full-time employees, Ethan said that during the busy times of the year, it’s all hands-on deck and the rest of the family is happy to help.
Making management changes on a farm can be a difficult decision. Risk is always involved, but the Humberts have solid advice for anyone looking to integrate conservation methods into their farm. To start, the results of sustainable agriculture cannot be seen overnight. It takes patience and trial and error to find what works best for your land. Additionally, changes need to be made from a specific, systematic approach. By only incorporating one conservation method, a farm is not going to see the benefits. Mark and Ethan said that it can take four or five years to notice a difference, and a full decade to fully reap the benefits. Their most important piece of advice is to never stop learning or researching. Many of their practices were learned from a neighboring farm, and they hope to act in a similar position to other interested farmers.
A passion for farming and sustainable ag is evident within the Humbert family. They consider themselves fortunate to have access to high-quality soil and land and take it upon themselves to ensure their land remains farmland as well as other farms in the state. Through hosting workshops for NRCS or New York Farm Bureau, Humbert Farms has created a place for like-minded farmers to come together and network. In upstate New York, they see many tourists, meaning their farm and others are always in the spotlight on water quality, erosion and how the land in the area is cared for. The farm has an open-door policy, and anyone is invited to visit and ask them about their practices.
One of Mark’s favorite activities to do with visitors happens after it rains. He likes to walk with a group to a puddle and show them how clear the water is. This means the soil is staying in the fields to benefit their crops and is not infiltrating the area’s water supplies. He noted that prior to their sustainable farming efforts, the puddles around the farm were filled with soil. This activity is tangible and shows proof of their efforts across their land.
The NY-AEM Leopold Conservation Award annually recognizes farmers and landowners for their above and beyond efforts for sustainable use of their land and natural resources around them. Criteria to win the award include extensive proof of best management practices in soil conservation, evidence of community engagement around sustainable farming and how these practices are regularly integrated into a business model. The whole Humbert family was grateful to be a finalist for this award and hopes to use this recognition to shine a light on how conservation farming has benefited their business and family.
by Hannah Majewski